On the day Microsoft announced Office 365, Kurt DelBene, president of the Microsoft Office Division, said: "This resets the bar for what people will expect of productivity applications in the cloud."
Oh, Microsoft. Why must you say these things?
[ Also on InfoWorld: Read Woody Leonard's excellent analysis of why Ray Ozzie left Microsoft. | Then have a look at Neil McAllister's comparative review of "Office suites in the cloud: Microsoft Office Web Apps versus Google Docs and Zoho." ]
We all know that Office 365 is basically an upgrade and repackaging of BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite), which consists of Microsoft-hosted versions of SharePoint, Exchange, and Office Communications. The obvious difference is that 365 adds -- drumroll, please -- Office Web Apps.
In the heat of last Tuesday's announcement, some people jumped to the conclusion that the addition of Web Apps meant, at long last, that Microsoft had an answer to Google Apps. The truth: Not anymore than it already did. You can already use Office Web Apps and SkyDrive for free on the Office Live site; BPOS is available separately for $10 per user per month. Office 365 wraps the two together -- so how exactly is the bar being "reset"?
Cloudy with a chance of misinformation
To be fair, the private beta program for Office 365 has just started, and Office 365 will probably be considerably better than BPOS, with online 2010 versions of SharePoint, Exchange, and Office Communications -- the last renamed Lync Server and, according to InfoWorld contributor J. Peter Bruzzese, vastly improved.
But guess what else is part of Office 365? Office Professional Plus, a desktop product. So not only does Office 365 fail to "reset the bar" for productivity applications in the cloud, its main productivity applications aren't in the cloud at all. As before, Office Web Apps are intended to be browser-based extensions to the desktop version of Office.
Office 365 will actually come in two flavors: an enterprise version that includes Office Professional Plus and a small-business version that does not. Wait, does that mean you can use the small-business version of Office 365 without a locally installed version of Office? Nope. Check the system requirements for the small-business version and you will find the following note: "Office 2007 SP2 or Office 2010."