Productivity tools are a mainstay for every organization and Microsoft wants to ensure that everyone has a set of tools that both work well and are inexpensive to deploy. Today, Office365 has opened to public beta and based on what we've seen, there will be many lined up to the cloud to try it out.

No Stranger to Cloud Services

If you like your Microsoft Office package and are fond of SharePoint 2010, but are looking for a more inexpensive alternative, there are a number of products and online services on the market to consider, including OpenOffice, Google Apps, Zoho and a few others. But you don't have to stray from Microsoft to get cheaper, easy to use productivity and collaboration tools.

Microsoft is no stranger to offering cloud services at scale, they have been doing it for 15 years now with services such as adCenter, xBoxLive, Windows Live. BPOS was their first go at productivity tools for commercial use and it was fairly decent. Our look at SharePoint Online (SharePoint Online (SaaS) Review - What it is and Isn't) back in May of 2009 showed a nice set of features and capabilities. But it was a start and with the evolution of MS Office and SharePoint from 2007 to 2010 came a need for a new version of BPOS.

Office365 launched in limited beta back in October last year (Microsoft Rebrands BPOS As Office 365, Adds Office Online), bringing together a new online Office Web Apps, SharePoint, Exchange and Lync (formerly called Office Communication Server). With that limited beta launch, partners have been working hard to integrate their offerings.

Office365 Home Page - Administrator View

Improved Features for Collaboration

There's a lot to look at in Office365, too much to wrap up in a single article.

Office365 - Lync Online

Over the next couple of weeks we'll take you through several areas in detail including Office capabilities, Lync integration and, of course, SharePoint. Until then, here are some features that should keep you looking for more detail:

  • You can take any email in Outlook and turn it into a meeting
  • The Online Web Apps can integrate with Lync and Exchange
  • Online meetings can be view only or collaborative with users being able to take over the meeting and/or move to different slides other than what the presenter is discussing.
  • Multiple users can edit documents/spreadsheets at the same time, with various sections of the file locked to each user. This is done via line level locking or manually locking certain sections.
  • See where updates to files have been made and who made them (profile integration).
  • View documents in the browser (Chrome and Firefox are supported), with an identical appearance to that of the Office client view.
  • A new SharePoint library control allows you to sync your library to SharePoint Workspace and take your documents offline.
  • A new wizard helps you quickly build a team site
  • Easily enable access to your team site to external users, making them either visitors (read-only access) or members (you assign roles/permissions).

Office365 - Multiple Authors

Office365 Marketplace

Along with the public beta, comes the Office365 Marketplace. Microsoft currently has 16,000 cloud partners and there are 100 applications and 600 professional services offerings available in the Marketplace already.

Notable apps include:

As the public beta goes on, we expect to see and hear from many partners regarding their support for Office 365.

Office365 - SharePoint Workspaces

Office365 - SharePoint Online Security

Designed for Large and Small Organizations

Office365 is designed to support both the small business (SMB) and the larger enterprise. As a cloud based service, it comes as a subscription offering.

38 countries are able to participate in this public beta and it supports 16 languages including, English, Chinese (traditional), Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Spanish, Swedish and Romanian.

There are two plans you can test, one for SMBs and one for enterprises. The main differences between the two plans include MS Office Professional Plus (a downloadable version of Office plus Office Web Apps), Active Directory synchronization, advanced archiving and 24 hour/7 day per week phone support (this is all with Office365 for enterprises).

There's much more to come as we put this beta through its paces (I'm currently waiting for a new SharePoint team site theme to generate).