Later this year, Microsoft will release a new version of its ubiquitous Office suite called Office 365. On 19 April, it was released as a “public beta”, allowing users around the world to give it a spin for free.
A lot of people will. According to Forrester Research, a technology and market research company, 80% of the world’s enterprise customers still use some version of Microsoft Office to get their work done. Even if a growing number of users are moving to free, online services such as Google Docs (Docs.google.com), Office remains the corporate mainstay.
It’s easy then to call Office 365 Microsoft’s answer to Google Docs. In many ways, it is—it features many of the collaborative editing (where many people can work on one document simultaneously) and cloud-based sync (where the latest versions of all your documents are available irrespective of which computer you’re on) features that have made Google’s free online suite quite popular, and integrates them into Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook.
But Office 365 isn’t just a collaborative layer tacked on to traditional Office. It feels like the beginning of a complete change in how Office will work in the future. There is, for instance, the inclusion of a new service called Lync, a sort of Facebook for business.
Mint spoke to Sanjay Manchanda, Bangalore-based director of Microsoft India’s business division, on what’s new in this version of Office, its social features and pricing in India. Edited excerpts from the interview:
From Microsoft’s point of view, is Office 365 the next version of the Office suite (after Office 2010)?
Office 365 and Office 2010 are two completely different offerings, but work together to deliver a solution to meet the full range of an organization’s business productivity needs.
Office 365 is a set of cloud services that delivers cloud-based versions of our communication and collaboration services: Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Lync Online, combined with the familiar Office applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), now available as a subscription service.
Who, in your opinion, will upgrade from a normal Office to 365?
We believe the Office 365 value proposition of always-on services, anywhere access, and reduced costs is compelling for organizations of all types and sizes.
They get enterprise-grade capabilities and massive data-centre capacity without upfront infrastructure investments, significantly reducing their capital expenditure on IT.
Version 2.0: Office 365 provides cloud services such as Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online.
So small business gets access to what were previously “big business” IT solutions, such as Exchange, SharePoint and Lync, in a highly cost-effective model.
For large businesses, factors like scalability and speed of roll-out combined with reduced maintenance and management costs are highly compelling. We are expecting tremendous demand for Office 365 among Indian businesses.
But by moving traditional enterprise solutions to the cloud, will IT administrators suddenly find they have nothing to do?
On the contrary, moving on-premise solutions to the cloud reduces the time spent by internal IT on the mundane and tactical day-to-day operational tasks, from running regular maintenance and backups. This lets them respond much more rapidly and efficiently to new business requirements by making it easier.
Can you tell me a little bit about the new collaboration-friendly versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint?
Last year, Office 2010 introduced co-authoring for the first time in Word, PowerPoint and OneNote, allowing team members to simultaneously work on a document and edit it together. Outlook 2010 introduced Outlook Social Connector, allowing people to stay productive and remain in touch on Facebook and LinkedIn. PowerPoint 2010 also introduced a “broadcast slide show” feature that allowed people to deliver presentations over the Web, straight from PowerPoint.
Office 365 takes that to a whole new level. People can now share large files both inside and outside your organization with a password-protected website, and open and save files stored on SharePoint directly from Word, Excel and PowerPoint. They can also access documents in SharePoint from a compatible smartphone. Further, a new service called Lync Online allows people to connect with people within or outside the organization through instant messaging (IM), video calls, or online meetings from within the Office applications.
C ompetition in the instant messaging space is heavy. What does Lync have that will convince people to move away from IM and call services that they’re already using?
Microsoft Lync embeds click-to-call within email clients or any Office document, and this makes it unique as compared to any other product in the market.
Lync also delivers on our vision to unify all the modes of modern business communication, giving people a more collaborative, “in person” experience, with features like HD video, conference recording, and social features like status updates and activity feeds to be accessed from their PC, Mobile or a browser window which is again very unique for Microsoft.
What sort of plans and price points do you have in mind for India?
Office 365 will be available in multiple variants. For small businesses with 25 users or less, we have plans that include Office Web Apps, Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Lync Online, as well as external website for $6 (approximately Rs 270) per user per month.
For larger organizations, there is a range of Office 365 plans to address different usage scenarios, not just for office workers but also people out in the field who typically don’t have access to corporate data and systems. These plans start for as little as $2 for basic email to $27 per user per month.