Web Apps

Microsoft Battles for Sky Supremacy With Office 365 Launch

Microsoft on Tuesday launched its newest cloud service, Office 365, in 40 markets. The service consists of online versions of Microsoft Office, SharePoint, Microsoft Exchange, and Microsoft Lync.

Pricing runs from US$2 to $11 per user per month.

Microsoft’s building up an ecosystem around the service, and more than 20 service providers around the world, including several telephone companies, have announced they’ll offer Office 365 to customers this year.

Office 365 is in some ways Microsoft’s answer to Google Apps. However, whether Microsoft can win out in the Web-based services area remains to be seen.

“It’s the classic innovator’s dilemma — Google is simple, Microsoft is complicated,” Zeus Kerravala, a senior vice president at the Yankee Group, told TechNewsWorld.

Further, Office 365 is “much more expensive,” Kerravala said. Microsoft’s pricing looks as if it’s trying to protect its current revenue stream, he explained.

“We have been serving the enterprise for more than eight years, starting with our Google Search Appliance,” Google spokesperson Jessica Kositz told TechNewsWorld.

“We welcome Microsoft’s movement towards the cloud,” Kositz added. “Ultimately, we have fundamentally different visions for software — Office remains tied to desktop software, Apps is 100 percent Web.”

Microsoft spokesperson Anna Imperati declined to add further comment.

Round the World With Office 365

Office 365 is aimed at businesses of all sizes. Customers can now get Microsoft Office Professional Plus on a pay-as-you-go basis, for example.

Applications offered in the service include Microsoft Office apps, Microsoft SharePoint, Exchange and Lync.

There are 11 service plans for Office 365 users, all coming with advanced IT controls, security technologies, 24/7 IT support and reliability.

Businesses can sign up for a 30-day free trial of Office 365 here or from their local Microsoft partner.

Microsoft’s building a partner ecosystem around Office 365 that includes systems integrators, software vendors, resellers and service providers.

The service providers will bundle Office 365 with a variety of their own services, ranging from Web hosting and broadband to finance solutions and mobile services, Microsoft said.

Office 365 was released in beta last year, and more than 200,000 organizations signed up and began testing it, Microsoft said.

Is Google Spooked by Office 365?

Microsoft Office 365 is old technology, with attendant problems such as complexity and difficulty of management, Google Apps Product Manager Shan Sinha asserted in a blogpost titled “365 reasons to consider Google Apps.”

Google Apps is for teams, while Office 365 is for individuals; Office 365 is built for the Microsoft platform while Google Apps runs on any platform; and Google Apps is less expensive, Sinha stated.

Google Apps costs $5 a month and offers 99.9 percent uptime, security and interoperability with BlackBerries and Microsoft Outlook.

Google vs. Office 365

Google costs less because “they have no legacy installed base to worry about,” the Yankee Group’s Kerravala pointed out.

Another strike against Microsoft is its complexity — Microsoft’s partners include systems integrators, which implies that moving to Office 365 will need some technical elbow grease.

“Moving to the cloud is supposed to make things easier for workers and the IT department,” Kerravala remarked. “Having to get systems integrators involved in the deployment of a cloud service seems counterintuitive.”

Security is yet another issue that crops up with cloud-based services, and it may be a concern with Office 365.

“Microsoft is under constant fire from hackers,” the Yankee Group’s Kerravala said. Ensuring data won’t be hacked “would be a huge concern for me as an IT manager,” he added.

Google’s confident in its security — the Google Chrome browser was the only browser to remain uncracked at the P2n2Own 2011 challenge in Vancouver, Canada, this year.

“We have a strong 10-year track record in data security,” Google’s Kositz stated. “Security is built into the DNA of our products — it’s one of the most important factors we consider in developing products like Gmail and Docs.”

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