The cloud is clearly where it’s at when it comes to apps, data storage, and even productivity software. Google Apps has been in on this game for some time, and now the traditional business software giant Microsoft is ready to get into the market.
At long last, Office 365, now emerged from private beta, migrates the old familiar Microsoft Office applications to the web. The software juggernaut expects to leverage the legion of office workers already accustomed to the MS Office environment. For example, users of Office 365 can create, edit, and share web-based apps for Word, Outlook, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. In addition, there’s no need to have local versions of the software on their computers.
Moving office to the cloud will make collaboration more effecient, allowing multiple users to work on Excel spreadsheets from any location, simultaneously. You can also access files on multiple devices. But it’s the corporate administrative tools, designed for both small business and enterprise customers, that help Office 365 stand out. The solution gives admin rights to deploy and oversee Office productivity software to companies of 25 to 50 people (Small Business version). We had no trouble setting up access for our employees during our hands on time. Using the virtual versions of Word, Excel, and Outlook, we created, edited and shared docs easily.
We liked having the tried-and-true Office menu options at our fingertips, such as those tools for selecting fonts, formatting, clipboard options, and using the spell check. The UI is simple though, compared with full Office programs. Fancy tricks like mail merge aren’t here. However, the web apps provide the ability to transfer documents to desktop software in a few mouse clicks. Just hit the Open in Word button, or Excel depending on what app you’re in.
The downside? This access comes at a price. According to Microsoft, businesses with between 1 to 25 employees (maximum 50) must pay $6 per person per month. A monthly subscription for 25 workers adds up to $150, or $1,800 a year. Sounds like a reasonable price until stacked up against Google’s Google Docs service, which offers much of the same functions but for a flat fee of $50 per year, per employee. This comes to a much lower yearly cost of $1,250 (25 users).
Adding salt to the wound, companies must purchase a separate license for Office on the desktop. What’s more, using a free Windows Live ID in Office Live, for free, offers the same interface and productivity options as Office 365. The only difference, really, is the ability to collaborate, plus provide and manage access for a group of users.
Sure, within Office 365 there is strong integration with other Office products such as Outlook, Messenger, and Windows Phone 7 mobile devices. This enables workers to organize meetings around convenient times, conference rooms, and simply keep track of where everyone is. The question is, will small businesses be willing to pay for it?