It has been confirmed by multiple people within Microsoft that Office 365 will launch later this month - specifically on 28 June. This follows a beta testing cycle that was initially limited to a select audience from October 2010 - and then was expanded to general availability from April 2011.
The story was initially shared in a small post on Office 365 NZ yesterday. Details were confirmed later in a tweet from Microsoft Partner Director Jon Roskill. It was also noted that Microsoft has drawn some 100,000 customers to try the Office 365 beta.
As the beta has only been broadly available for a few weeks, it is anticipated that many more companies will jump onboard and try the beta before the launch on 28 June. One benefit for those who sign up for the beta is that in addition to free access to Office 365 during the remainder of the beta period, users will also have 1-month free usage, following release.
Office 365 is Microsoft's strongest launch into cloud services for it's broad global base of users. In 2010, Microsoft made it's Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) available, however it was limited to using outdated versions of Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft SharePoint from 2007. Office 365 fixes that by bringing Microsoft's latest offerings to the cloud - Exchange 2010, SharePoint 2010, Lync 2010 and Office Web Apps 2010. The highest end offering of Office 365 also includes a subscription license of Microsoft Office to install on user PCs and Laptops.
This release puts Microsoft in direct competition to Google's business offering of Google Apps. Microsoft Office has been the main office application used by both home users and businesses for a long time - and judging by this stronghold in the office productivity space, it's likely Microsoft will win the majority of the market that Office 365 is targeting.
What's unclear is specifically how Google will respond. Likely they will continue to make ongoing progress at improving Google Apps - however without the ease of use of the Office ribbon and only a web based offering it appears crippled compared Office 365 with an Office 2010 subscription. An option Google might take is to reduce the price of Google Apps - or to just make it free.
Interestingly, Google Apps has been free in the past for small businesses (and still is for the smallest firms), however most companies haven't seen it as a relevant option when compared to running in house Microsoft systems.
So what's missing?
- Currently Office 365 works with Macs - except for Lync. The current Communications Server client shipping with Office 2011 for Mac does not work with the Office 365 beta. This is expected to be resolved at release time or within a few months following.
- A subscription option that covers Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac. It's anticipated such an option will also be forthcoming, however Microsoft are yet to make any formal announcements.
- A free option - well sort of. Actually Microsoft separate their business and consumer offerings. There are free options for consumers such as Hotmail, Docs.com and Windows Live Messenger. These offer many Office 365 style capabilities targeted squarely at consumers and at zero cost.