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Third Time's a Charm for Microsoft's Office 365

Third Time
February 27, 2013 11:12AM

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"The new version of Office 365 comes the closest to actually offering a service," said analyst Wes Miller. "I think businesses will gravitate to Office 365 faster than they have in the past." Miller said this third version of Office 365 is far and away the best Microsoft has created, particularly versions with the desktop suite, enabling easy transitions from offline to online.

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Microsoft is beefing up Office 365 for business and rolling out tailored versions for small, medium and large enterprises: ProPlus, Midsize Business and Small Business Premium.

With this third new version of Office 365, users can get Microsoft's productivity apps on up to five devices. Office 365 features enhanced enterprise social capabilities with SharePoint and Yammer, Lync-Skype connectivity for presence, instant messaging, and voice by June.

"For Hamburg Port Authority, our typical day on ships and in the harbor is different from most companies, as are our technology and business needs," said Dr. Sebastian Saxe, chief information officer at Hamburg Port Authority. "Our workforce is mobile, so communication and access to information is critical for our 1,900 employees. Office 365 helps our team connect to the people and information that are important, while also reducing IT time on testing, installing and updating versions by 75 percent."

Three Flavors

Office 365 ProPlus has all the bells and whistles -- Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, InfoPath and Access -- delivered as a service. IT departments also get the controls they need, including the ability to run Office 365 ProPlus side-by-side with other versions of Office and tools to streamline and manage updates. Office 365 ProPlus is available as a standalone offering for $144 per user for an annual subscription.

As its name suggests, Office 365 Midsize Business is designed for medium-size businesses with 10 to 250 employees. This service includes Office 365 ProPlus and provides midsize businesses with enterprise-quality communication and collaboration with Exchange Online, Lync Online and SharePoint Online. Pricing is $180 per user for an annual subscription.

Office 365 Small Business Premium is designed for small businesses with one to 10 employees. In addition to the complete set of Office apps, this service includes business-grade e-mail, shared calendars, Web site tools and HD videoconferencing capability that does not require IT expertise. Pricing is $150 per user for an annual subscription.

Best of Both Worlds

Wes Miller, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, said this third version of Office 365 is far and away the best Microsoft has created.

"The new version of Office 365 comes the closest to actually offering a service," Miller told us. "I think businesses will gravitate to Office 365 faster than they have in the past."

Microsoft Office 365 has two key competitors: its own desktop software and Google Docs. Although Miller doesn't see Office 365 as critical at this point in time, he does see shifting tides. Google Docs is gaining momentum, but users are also still using old versions of Office on the desktop. Microsoft, he said, is encouraging companies to upgrade to Office 2013 and Office 365.

"Not all the editions include the desktop suite, but for those that do it provides a really interesting counterpoint to Google, in particular, because you are completely offline," Miller said. "While Google is adding offline capabilities to some of the apps, you still can't work offline with all of them. With Office 365, you can get a little bit of the best of the both words. You have to install the desktop suite, but they've made it so it's pretty flexible. You can work offline wherever you are and access services when you log online."

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