Office 365 Part 1 – Overview

office365

Microsoft Office 365 is now available for small businesses. It is the most visible part of Microsoft’s efforts to migrate from shrink-wrapped software to services delivered online – “cloud” computing, in the current catchphrase.

There is something of interest in Office 365 for almost every small business. I expect this to occupy much of my time in 2011 and 2012. Take a few minutes to come up to speed!


OVERVIEW

Microsoft Office 365 is a service with three primary components. I’ll briefly describe each one in the days to come.

It is an upgrade and replacement for Microsoft Online Services, which was sold as a suite under the name “Business Productivity Online Services” or “BPOS.” The individual piece familiar to my clients is the mail portion, Exchange Online.


PRICE

Office 365 has been priced aggressively to discourage competitors. It is ever so slightly more expensive than Google Apps, but Office 365 makes Google’s offerings look a bit ragtag by comparison; the price will not be the reason to choose one or the other. Businesses and law firms invested in Microsoft Office will choose Office 365. Free spirits and young folks and Anyone But Microsoft™ types might choose the Google services.

Clients running Exchange Online now are paying $5/month per mailbox for the standalone Exchange service. Although that is still available as an option, Microsoft has priced the entire suite irresistibly at $6/month per user. For the extra dollar a month, a business will have access to Sharepoint and Lync, which is kind of like being handed a huge box of goodies – you might not ever use the goodies but they’re almost free and you might be surprised to find that something in the box changes your business in a profound way.

Unlike Microsoft Online Services, Office 365 has no minimum purchase requirement. Even individuals or 2-person offices can set it up.


MIGRATION

Businesses and law firms that are currently using Microsoft Online Services and Exchange Online will migrate to Office 365 at some point in the next year – at a time (mostly) of our choosing between now and next June. It will not be tremendously disruptive or expensive for very small offices.

The biggest challenge for some businesses: Outlook 2003 will not connect to the new Office 365 servers. Older computers will have to be upgraded to Outlook 2007 or 2010 – and that might be a good reason to replace those computers, since they are likely at the end of their life anyway. (There will be an option, however, to simply have those old computers use Outlook Web Access, which is significantly improved in the version of Exchange that powers Office 365.)

I’ll be talking to each of my clients currently set up with Exchange Online about the migration but there is no rush.


ADDITIONAL INFO

I will write briefly about each of the services in my next article. If you are interested in finding out more, here is an edited version of a list of links compiled for Microsoft partners. Obviously it gives you access to a lot of information but you can appreciate just by looking at the list that Office 365 is a major announcement that Microsoft is taking very seriously.