Office 365 beta ends with full release

At an event in downtown Toronto, Eric Gales, president of Microsoft Canada told a group of journalists that with Office 365, Redmond Wash.-based Microsoft, is targeting the small to medium sized businesses that have long been forced to settle for “tech of a lower quality.”

The promise is getting the same professional UI and experience users have come to expect in Word, Excel and Outlook, but with better access via the cloud and at a price that SMBs won’t balk at.

Starting at $7 per user per month, Gales calls Office 365 a “game-changer,” that allows a “complimentary relationship between the offline product and online.”

He also says 40 per cent of businesses don’t use enterprise class email or conferencing software, something they can get now at a bargain.

According to Ted Gorsline, president of Toronto-based MobileVantage, his company picked Office 365 because of the tools for “collaborating and a professional look, plus Exchange.” He says that, for smaller companies like MobileVantage, good-looking and well-supported software can be out of reach, money-wise.

Tim Hickernell, Associate Lead Analyst at Info-Tech Research Group, thinks Microsoft has hit a sweet spot with 365. It has “met the demand for ‘right-sizing’.” By letting SMBs decide how much or how little of the Office suite they need on a per user basis, it can dramatically effect their IT costs, Hickernell says.

While that demand is the most important bullet point to SMBs, Jason Brommet, Microsoft Office group manager for Microsoft Canada, was quick to point out the usefulness of having access to Office through the cloud. “Coffee shops have become the business hub of today,” Brommet says.

Brommet also says that 365 will be accessible any PC, mobile phone or browser, so businesses can stay connected and collaborate from any coffee shop, airport gate or train. “We’ve taken the power of that Office experience and made it available wherever you are,” Brommet says.

Microsoft has also stated that using Office 365 will help businesses in a lot of subtle ways too. Besides the collaboration and access it allows, SMBs can also use 365 to create a company Web page and set up professional looking .com domains for email. According to Gales, it’s elements like these that can help SMBs look and feel more legitimate to potential clients.

The only trickiness that comes from 365’s release, according to Hickernell, is the licensing model. Instead of the standard model that most Enterprise Agreements are based upon, which licenses a product to a device instead of a user, Office 365 licenses are tied to the user. Therefore, Hickernell says that “licencing for 365 for existing [Office] customers is complex.” It’s a process that could give larger businesses pause before making the transition of all or part of their organization to 365.

Despite the move to full release, Office 365 is still available as a trial for 30 days on Microsoft’s website.

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