Microsoft unveils Office 365 cloud platform

The new offering features Office, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online, and Lync Online as a bundled, hosted package

Microsoft, with its Microsoft Office 365 hosted applications announced Tuesday, is offering Office, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online, and Lync Online as an "always-up-to-date" cloud service.

Office 365, the company said, makes it easier for organizations to use the company's solutions via cloud computing. Users can work together more easily from anywhere on virtually any device, including smartphones, Microsoft said.

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Although Microsoft previously has offered cloud services, such as its Business Productivity Online Suite and Office Live Small Business, Office 365 represents a new approach to cloud applications because it brings together Office desktop software and Office Web Apps to Microsoft business cloud services for the first time, a Microsoft representative said. It also features more complete versions of Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync and a new platform with single sign-in, federated identity, and scripting.

"[Office 365 is] including the Office apps as part of their cloud offerings. They didn't do that before," said analyst Jeff Mann of Gartner. Enterprises might be interested because they can access Microsoft's applications via a cloud, which is easier and potentially cheaper, Mann said.

A Microsoft executive emphasized that Office 365 represents change as well as opportunities.

"Office 365 is one of the most transformative moves we've made with Office. We've taken the best of everything we know about productivity, and we're delivering it all in one cloud service. This resets the bar for what people will expect of productivity applications in the cloud," said Microsoft's Kurt DelBene, president of the Microsoft Office Division, in an interview released by the company.

"No longer is Office only a rich client that connects to servers; it is part of the services offering that we manage for customers. This will change our ongoing relationship with customers across all points of engagement, including product testing, the sales cycle, product deployment and customer support," DelBene continued.

"Office 365 is an opportunity for us to explore new possibilities. We can reach customers who don't have the IT resources to manage enterprise-class software. And, we can help customers stay up to date with the latest versions of our products. The impact of Office 365 will be far-reaching, because we can bring enterprise-class applications to everyone," he said.

Microsoft is offering Office 365 for enterprises and small businesses. It will be available worldwide next year, and it will be expanded to include Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online later in 2011.

For enterprises, Office 365 offers choices for midsize and large businesses and government organizations, with prices starting at $2 per month for basic email. Enterprises also have the option to get Microsoft Office Professional Plus desktop software on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Small businesses can get an external website and access Office Web Apps, Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Lync Online for $6 per month.

This article, "Microsoft unveils Office 365 cloud platform," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in business technology news and get a digest of the key stories each day in the InfoWorld Daily newsletter.

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