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Microsoft Pushes Its Hybrid Approach to the Cloud Against Google

What it is is Microsoft’s traditional desktop-bound Office available to the enterprise at monthly subscription prices

Microsoft Tuesday dumped the clumsy, not-very-memorable Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) brand it inflicted on poor SharePoint Online and Exchange Online in favor of a new cloudy repackaged concoction called Office 365, a simpler, more memorable branding than Microsoft has seemed capable of lately accompanied by a lot of confused and confusing messaging.

Contrary to reports Office 365 is not - repeat not - an online cloud-ified version of the honest-to-God desktop Office suite that brings Microsoft so much dough. Heavens to Betsy, no, Microsoft isn't ready to go that far to ward off the Googles of the world. Hell hasn't frozen over yet.

What it is is Microsoft's traditional desktop-bound Office available to the enterprise at monthly subscription prices, a novel scheme borrowed from the cloud, and bundled with Microsoft's lightweight, not-quite-ready-for-primetime Office Web Apps, stuff that's supposed to counter Google Apps without dislocating the great and mighty Office profit stream.

Basically the hybrid approach to the cloud Microsoft has previously said it would take.

If nothing else, Office 365 should clean up some of the brand sprawl infecting Microsoft these days because it's going to be throwing Office Live Small Business and [email protected] into the dumpster along with the ill-fated BPOS.

In their place it's taking updates of SharePoint Online and Exchange Online as well as the newfangled Lync Online combining them with an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink-style Office Professional Plus and the Google-rebutting Office Web Apps and calling it Office 365, offering it to business as "the best of everything [Microsoft] knows about productivity 365 days a year."

Evidently that's supposed to suggest constant availability even in the not-always-dependable cloud. At least it's reportedly got a Threer9s SLA.

Still Office 365- whose code name was Union according to Microsoft camp follower Mary Joe Foley - will be sliced and diced - on the theory that one size does not fit all - according to the size of the account and what it wants off the Chinese menu.

Businesses with less than 25 people - well, maybe it's really 50 Microsoft is a little unclear here - anyway, small businesses will be steered to a $6-a-month-per-user Office 365 package that includes the dumbed-down Office Web Apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote), Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online, a brew that's supposed to take all of 15 minutes to set up and will run 5.25-a-head every month in Europe. The conventional locally installed Office isn't included in this SKU.

The business-y Google Apps, which doesn't have Office 365's functionality, runs $50 a year per seat. Google Docs and Gmail are free. BPOS, by the way, sold for $120 a user a year.

Mid-size and large businesses and government will be pitched Office Professional Plus desktop software on a first-time-ever pay-as-you-go basis along with Office Web Apps, e-mail, voicemail, enterprise social networking, instant messaging, web portals, extranets, voice conferencing, videoconferencing, web conferencing and 24x7 phone support for $24 or 22.75 a user a month.

Heck, if the account can only scrape together $2 or 1.75 per user a month, Microsoft will sell them basic e-mail, (which used to be called - ugh - Deskless Worker).

The idea, Microsoft says, is for Office 365 to "create new growth opportunities by reaching more customers and types of workers and meeting more business IT needs while cutting costs for customers." It's going after those it's missed and that Google might attract with a fuller quiver than Google can muster.

The au courant selling point's supposed to be that "people can work together more easily from anywhere on virtually any device, while collaborating with others inside and outside their organization in a simple and highly secure way."

And apparently Microsoft figures on its hosting friends decking out Office 365 with value-added services like BI, additional storage, security features, archiving and so forth.

Silicon Alley Insider adds another wrinkle and says that through the wonders of App-V virtualization Microsoft will keep Office Professional Plus 2010 desktops patched and updated over the Internet, relieving the enterprise of the bother.

Office 365 is still a placeholder, though. Microsoft isn't ready to start selling the stuff. It's just kicked off a limited beta of 2,000 or so testers in 13 countries that will evidently be expanded to 40 countries before being made available worldwide sometime next year.

Later next year Microsoft will try spitting in salesforce.com's eye by adding Dynamics CRM Online to the mix. Long about that time it should also have an Office 365 for education in hand, tailored to students, faculty and school employees.

Oh, yes, about Lync. It's Microsoft's rebranded unified communications software like Communications Server, Communications Online and Communicator. The family now includes Lync Web App and Lync Online for instant messaging and conferencing. Last month Microsoft announced release candidates of Lync 2010 and Lync Server 2010 for businesses to try.

See www.Office365.com.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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