Microsoft today announced the general availability of Office 365, the cloud version of its Office productivity suite and its most significant software-as-a-service push to date.
Office 365, which has been available in beta form since October 2010, combines Office Web Apps – Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint and Word – with web-based versions of email platform Exchange, SharePoint and Lync, which were previously part of the Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS).
As well as bringing BPOS and Office Web Apps together, Office 365 replaces Office Communications Online and Office Live Meeting with Lync.
More than 200,000 organisations have downloaded the beta version of Office 365, according to Microsoft.
For businesses wanting to give Office 365 a try, the cloud suite is available on a 30-day free trial period, after which users will need to pay a subscription.
Microsoft today unveiled several versions of Office 365 variously tailored to small businesses, enterprises and 'kiosk' workers.
The small business version (P1) is aimed at businesses with up to 50 users and is priced at £4 per user per month.
The SME version includes Exchange, SharePoint and Lync as well as Office Web Apps but lacks some functionality such as the ability to publish certain documents (Visio, spreadsheets and forms) in SharePoint.
Microsoft has also released four flavours of the enterprise version, from E1 to E4. E1 includes Exchange, SharePoint and Lync while E2 adds the online Office apps. E3 adds licences for client-based versions of the Office applications while E4 adds PBX functionality to Lync to allow users to call people on mobile and landline phone connections as well as their contacts on the IP-based Lync.
The most basic E1 is priced at £6.50 per user per month. E2 costs £10.50 per user per month, E3 is £15.75 and E4 £17.75.
The kiosk version of Office 365 is intended for employees who only need access to basic email (Exchange), SharePoint and Office applications. There are two versions: K1 offers the basic Exchange and SharePoint for £2.60 per user per month while K2 adds the Office applications for £6.50. Despite not including the Office applications, K1 allows users to open Office documents hosted within SharePoint.
Microsoft intends to sell the kiosk version in conjunction with enterprise implementations of Office 365 so IT departments can manage the different applications using the same policies.
With cloud-based technology often causing concern around regulations on where data is held, Microsoft UK MD Gordon Frazer said that Microsoft will comply with regional regulations although it can't guarantee data won't be moved between regions.
"One of the things we're trying to do is be very transparent about where data is held. Customers will be able to see where their data is being stored. If data is going to be moved offshore we'll make sure we let our customers know about it," he told the Office 365 launch event in London on Tuesday.