A new interface, integration with Skype and cheap plans for solo users.
A few days ago Microsoft announced the 2013 range of its Office product suite. All desktop & server products will be branded under the new “2013” versioning, except for Office 365 which will keep its name.
Like Google Apps, Office 365 will now remain a fixed cloud service that is simply upgraded in the back-end between service releases. This is a change from the transition from Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS, the predecessor) to Office 365, which was a major platform and functionality change.
So what are some of the key functionalities and changes we’ll see in Office 365?
Calling from the cloud
Microsoft has already begun trials of “Lync to Phone” in the US and UK – allowing customers of Lync Online to also use it as a phone line. With the acquisition of Skype last year we will see more integration as the Small Business plan of Office 365 will include 60 minutes of Skype calls. We should also see more telecommunication carriers connecting to Lync Online to offer their services.
As mentioned before, the upgrade for existing customers will be done behind the scenes and with no impact to end users. Enterprise customers with more complex solutions such as Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) or Exchange hybrid environments will not have to change anything.
Microsoft Project Server is quite often out of reach for many businesses due to its cost and server requirements. With the next version we will see Project Online brought into the mix, providing organisations with advanced levels of project management normally only affordable by very large businesses.
Home and micro business licences
Office 365 will introduce single user subscriptions aimed at home and micro businesses that want the enterprise-grade functionality of Office 365 and Office 2013 but don’t need the more complex functionality of Small Business and Enterprise plans. This will also appeal to those advanced home users who want more functionality than Windows Live or other free services.
Announced at the Worldwide Partner Conference last week, Microsoft is introducing a new program known as Office 365 Open which allows Microsoft partners to resell Office 365 directly to customers. Ultimately this means less bills for customers as resellers will be able to bundle in the costs of Office 365 into their own service offerings.
If, in the past 18 months, you have seen a Windows Phone , screenshots of Windows 8 or used an Xbox – you’ll know what the Metro interface looks like. If you don’t know what Metro is yet then you’re in for a shock. Metro is Microsoft’s new design interface that is shaking up the IT industry. Simple, clean and easy to use, it will make many people happy as the interface will be the same between Office 365, Office on the desktop, your mobile device – be it a tablet or phone.
The list of features is quite rich and diverse, and over the next few months I’ll be sharing these with you – and what they mean for business.
Loryan Strant is a Microsoft Office 365 MVP (Most Valuable Professional). Follow him on Twitter @TheCloudMouth.