Review: Office 365 turns up the heat
Latest blend of Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync servers in the cloud combines an excellent feature set with easier setup and management
Microsoft has clearly worked hard to make Office 365 an easier way to run a full network for small and medium-sized businesses. The new edition is easier to set up, easier to administer, easier to use, and more flexible. It's friendlier to mobile devices, though there's still plenty of room for improvement. And it's all around more capable, drawing on nice additions in Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync, as well as better integration across the servers.
The ability to switch on mail, file sharing, Web/intranet, messaging, and live meetings without standing up servers and SANs will be enticing to companies eager to save time and money. But companies who think implementing Office 365 will eliminate the need for IT staff (and IT pros who think it will mean more hours in the day for World of Warcraft) are going to be disappointed. Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync may be running in Microsoft's cloud, but they still require attention from knowledgeable hands.
A number of Office 365 plans are available, and Microsoft adds two more to the mix: the Small Business Premium and the Midsize Business. These plans come with the Microsoft Office 2013 suite (click for InfoWorld's review) on a subscription basis, including the ability for each user to install the software on five devices (PCs or Macs). Should you need to edit a document on some other device, such as an iPad, you can do so with Office Web Apps, which support all the latest browsers and are good enough for light work. Even better, if you can borrow someone else's PC, you can stream the Office 2013 applications from the cloud for temporary use.
Features, er, services
Note that users get the same features using the streaming Office apps or the on-premises installations. New features to highlight include the People feature (basically a beefed-up contact database) and the Newsfeed that lets users combine all their online resources, such as websites they like, blogs they read, RSS feeds, and status updates from other users. A new Sites feature combines all of a user's individual and team SharePoint sites. Finally there's SkyDrive, which allots varying amounts of online storage for each user depending on how much you want to pay, with geo-redundant backup thrown in for free. Users also have one-click access to the Office Store, for new Office-certified apps (think add-ons). Of course admins can control access to this.