Microsoft Office Moves into the Cloud

By David H. Ringstrom, CPA

Microsoft is beta testing a new subscription-based product called Office 365 that includes the following applications: Microsoft Office Professional Plus (Microsoft’s flagship productivity suite, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and other applications); Microsoft Exchange Online (e-mail, mobile access, contacts, anti-virus, and anti-spam); Microsoft Sharepoint Online (collaboration tool for building public or team-based Web sites); and Microsoft Lync Online (an instant messaging and online meeting tool).
 
In 2011, Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online will join the above offerings. This is not Microsoft’s first foray into Cloud-based apps. Anyone with a free SkyDrive account can use the Office Web Apps (browser-based versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) and store up to 25 GB of documents online. Further, Microsoft has been offering subscription plans for the Business Productivity Online Standard Suite that has offered a similar mix of communication products sans Microsoft Office.
 
Anyone interested can sign up for the beta of either the Small Business or Enterprise versions of the program. Those who are accepted into the beta program receive the desktop version of Office 2010 Professional Plus, along with online access to Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync. Once Office 365 leaves beta, the service should be of particular interest to small business owners.
 
Exchange and SharePoint typically require dedicated servers, which in turn require specialized information technology expertise. These cloud-based versions will enable just about any business to take advantage of these powerful applications for e-mail, group calendaring, and collaboration.
 
The Small Business plan will cost $6/user/month for 1 to 25 users and will include:
  • Office Web Apps
  • Exchange Online, including 25 GB mailboxes, and the ability to send 25 MB attachments
  • SharePoint Online
  • Lync Online
  • Support provided via a moderated community forum
 
The Enterprise plan will cost $24/user/month and will include:
  • Office Professional desktop software
  • Office Web Apps
  • Exchange Online, including 25 GB mailboxes, and the ability to send 25 MB attachments
  • Sharepoint Online, including Forms, Access, Visio, and Excel services
  • Lync Online
  • 24/7 IT-level phone support
  • Financially-backed 99.9% uptime service, or, in other words, downtime of less than 9 hours per year
 
Larger businesses also will be able to subscribe to a kiosk plan that starts at $2/user/month to offer e-mail, SharePoint sites, and Office Web Apps to workers without dedicated computers. An Office 365 for education will be available in the future to help educational institutions provide services to students without maintaining servers.
 
Many businesses aren’t yet comfortable with having mission-critical applications and data residing in the Cloud, but this combination of low cost and high flexibility might cause skeptics to pause and consider the possibilities.
 
Read more articles by David Ringstrom. 
 
About the author:

David H. Ringstrom, CPA heads up Accounting Advisors, Inc., an Atlanta-based software and database consulting firm providing training and consulting services nationwide. Contact David at david@acctadv.com or follow him on Twitter. David speaks at conferences about Microsoft Excel, and presents webcasts for several CPE providers, including AccountingWEB partner CPE Link.


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