To date, Office 365 has offered businesses cloud-hosted Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync services and, in the higher-end tiers, downloadable versions of the Office 2010 Professional Plus productivity suite. For Office 2013, Office 365 is branching out considerably and will now come in versions for home users and businesses of all sizes. And each version will include Office desktop software.
The following plans will be available:
Office 365 Home Premium. Aimed at home users, this plans lets you Install Office 2013 on up to five PCs and get an additional 20 GB of online storage on SkyDrive so that you can save and share your documents online. Office 365 Home Premium includes Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, OneNote, Access, and Publisher 2013.
Office 365 Small Business Premium. Aimed at businesses with up to 10 employees, this plan provides Office ProPlus, which includes Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, OneNote, Access, Publisher, InfoPath and Lync 2013 on up to five PCs per user.
Office 365 ProPlus. With this plan, you can create up to 25 user accounts, each with five installations of Office 365 ProPlus (this includes Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, OneNote, Access, Publisher, InfoPath and Lync 2013).
Office 365 Enterprise. This plan includes everything from Office 365 ProPlus minus the user limit and adds Exchange Online, which provides archiving and legal compliance capabilities, SharePoint Online, for managing and sharing documents, and Lync Online, for conducting virtual meetings and collaborating with team members.
In case it’s not obvious from the descriptions above, Office 365 is being expanded out from its original role—providing cloud-based versions of Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync—to encompass electronically delivered versions of the Office productivity suite. These versions, which utilize the new Office On Demand technologies, can stream a full Office install to your desktop in just minutes, and come with generous installation rights of five PCs per user. Office 365, like Office 2013, will require Windows 7 or Windows 8.
(Mac user? The final versions of the next Office 365 will include access to Office 2013 for the Mac as well.)
A number of features are common to all Office 365 versions. For example, all of your Office settings will be automatically synced between all of your PCs. And Microsoft says that it will continually evolve Office going forward, and since you’re on a paying Office 365 subscription, you’ll get all of these updates for free, automatically. You’ll never need to buy a new Office edition or upgrade again.
While the business oriented versions of Office 365 will continue to use SharePoint in the cloud for document storing and sharing, Home Premium uses SkyDrive. That way, all of your Office documents are saved and stored both locally, on your PC, in SkyDrive in the cloud, so you can access them at any time from any device.
The business versions use SharePoint, of course, which provides numerous advantages over SkyDrive, including team collaboration capabilities, discussions, news feeds, and more. You can “follow” people, teams, documents and sites to keep up with the projects you’re working on. Oddly, however, Microsoft has rebranded SharePoint as SkyDrive Pro in some Office 365 versions. But it includes all the expected SharePoint functionality.
Microsoft is also launching related Project Online and Project Pro for Office 365 services, the latter of which helps you share projects and communicate over Office 365.
During the preview, it’s a bit hard to tell which subscription I’ve been using. My version of SharePoint is called SkyDrive Pro, which should provide a clue, and I have access to all of the Office 2013 applications, including Infopath and Lync. So this must be Office 365 ProPlus, I’m guessing.
If you’re familiar with Office 365 today, the simplicity of the new offering will be somewhat off-putting. The Settings interface includes just three options: Update your profile, Set up Office on your phone or tablet, and Install software and connect it to the cloud.
That latter option provides links for download the “latest version of Office,” which kicks of the speedy Office On Demand service, and a downloader—similar to what’s available today—for configuring your current Office version to work with Office 365. You can manage the PCs that have Office installed and download related tools (SharePoint Designer 2013) too.
And that’s about it.
As for the service itself, you get Outlook (mail), Calendar, People, Newsfeed (SharePoint based), SkyDrive (also SharePoint, really), and Sites (SharePoint) entries in the main toolbar. And if you’re not already familiar with Outlook 2013, those first three items are going to be a bit of a shock: Microsoft has done a commendable job of bringing its rich desktop applications to the web in the form of Outlook Web App.
Even the SharePoints Sites and Newsfeed have been nice Metro-ified, with a consistent look and feel. Only the “SkyDrive” documents repository looks and works much like today’s SharePoint, albeit with a new Sync feature that works like the SkyDrive application for Windows, letting you sync an online document library with your PC.
Office 365 includes the Office Web Apps, too, but I’ll look at that in a separate article.
The big question, of course, is how much this is all going to cost. Today, Microsoft offers a confusing array of Office 365 subscription plans and while the Small business plan costs a reasonable $6 per user per month, it offers only the online services. If you want to include Office Professional Plus, you need to step up to a $20 per user per month plan.
Will the next Office 365 offer a logical and seamless upgrade for those who use (the free) SkyDrive today, perhaps in tandem with a low-end Office 2010 version? If Microsoft can bring this in at $6 per user per month, they may be on to something, especially when you consider that all of these subscriptions includes a whopping five installs of the desktop suite. That’s an incredible deal.
But what about devices? Microsoft wouldn’t speak at all about Office on iOS or Android, but my sources tell me that it’s coming and will in fact be included with Office 365. And that suggests that you may be able to install, say, one copy of Office 2013 on the iPad plus, perhaps, four PCs. We’ll see. But armed with only the information we have today, the next Office 365 is looking good.