It hardly seems like it, but it is a year since Steve Ballmer officially launched Office 365 and Microsoft wasn’t going to let the occasion go by without the announcement of some notable customer wins and a couple of other interesting tidbits about its traction in the market.

This despite the naysayers of the last 12 months that have spent a lot of energy pointing out the difficulties companies would have moving across from BPOS, or deploying it in the first place.

Office 365 for Education

But it seems to be gaining traction and we’ll look at that in a minute. However, the one concrete notable event of the one year anniversary, which can be assessed without having to take Microsoft’s word for it -- as we do with figures for customer gains -- is the release of Office 365 for Education.

This is not exactly a surprise as Microsoft had said at the time of the Office 365 release that it would be replacing [email protected] with Office 365 for Education, but without a clear timeline when this would happen.

Seems it had been planning the announcement for a birthday treat, so Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Office Division, was able to announce the launch yesterday.

The module has already been tested in a limited number of institutions. According to Koenigsbauer at the launch, a number of colleges are already using it and plenty more are lining up to deploy it.

He announced that blue-chip colleges in the US like Dartmouth College (13,500 students moving to Office 365), Cornell (7,000 faculty in the fall of 2012), and Gonzaga University (8,000 students and 1,200 faculty and staff) would be moving to Office 365.

But it’s not just in the US; he also outlined recent announcements from around the world like the Catholic International Education Office and the Scottish education department, among some of the converts that will bring the number of people using the Office 365 version to over 12.5 million in the coming months.

Not bad for a start and it seems pretty straightforward, but It’s not. Firstly, to give users the time to get their heads around the Office 365 for Education, [email protected] will be available for 18 months to ease the transition for its estimated 22 million users across 130 countries.

[email protected] to Office 365

And then there is migration and the different plans that students and institutions can sign up for. According to the Microsoft Education Insights blog, the basic technology will be free.

As schools face ever-tightening budgets and the pressure to innovate, Microsoft is offering enterprise quality technology for free that will modernize teaching practices and help prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow…”

In the migration notes that have already appeared it will work like this:

The automated upgrade process will automatically subscribe users to Exchange Online Plan 1, which is limited to email and calendar. It is covered under existing [email protected] terms of use, so no new service agreement is required.

As soon as the automated upgrade completes, if you want to subscribe to the free Office 365 for education A2 plan which includes Lync Online, SharePoint Online and Office Web Apps, or to a paid academic plan with additional features, users need to sign a new Microsoft Online Services agreement.

Finally, educational institutions using [email protected] will be upgraded to Office 365 for Education. This upgrade gives students, faculty and staff free access to the same versions of key Office 365 tools available to enterprises.

Existing [email protected] domains will be converted to Office 365 domains during the upgrade. Any domain that is currently enrolled in [email protected] cannot be enrolled directly in Office 365: it must go through the upgrade process.

How it fares in the open market has to be seen yet. It has taken Microsoft a long time to do that, time during which Google has been building and adding to Apps and in particular Education Apps with wide ranging functions that many have already signed into. Will they be prepared to move to Office 365? That is -- literally -- the million dollar question.

Happy Birthday Office 365!

Other than the education announcement, Koenigsbauer says that the uptake for Office 365 across businesses has been substantial, and he lists a long list of corporate wins that we won’t go into here.

Since Office 365 was first released, it has created a footprint in 46 different new markets with support planned for 11 new languages, although what languages and when they will come online he didn’t say.

The result is that Office 365 is now available in 88 markets and in 32 languages reaching 4 billion people around the globe.

Microsoft has also introduced more than 50 new capabilities to the service in the past year, an average of one update per week, like password reset and enhanced storage for SharePoint Online.

That doesn’t mean that every one of those 4 billion have taken it up! An obvious point, but it should be made. The problem is that no one knows how many people have signed up to Office 365, and Microsoft is not telling.

Absolutely nothing. Last November the online business magazine Business Insider cited information from Microsoft saying that Microsoft had sold 5 million seats in three months.

But how reliable are these numbers? Impossible to say. The only way that we will know is if Microsoft tells us, and it’s not going to do that. If Office 365 is doing as well as Microsoft says, why won’t it reveal the figures, just to keep everyone happy?