Microsoft office 365Microsoft caught up with the present today with the launch of Office 365, a suite of its well-known Office software tailored for the cloud.

Office 365 is an online-based service that shares similarities to Google Apps and Zoho, and it lets people collaborate on documents, spreadsheets and e-mail using a combination of subscription desktop software and web apps. Microsoft’s popular applications like Word, Excel, Exchange, and PowerPoint will now be able to be licensed month-to-month with an online version.

Pricing starts at $6 per user per month for small businesses. The cost for medium to enterprise-size businesses ranges from $10 to $27 per user per month. This is considerably more than competitor Google Apps, which is $5 per user per month no matter how big the company.

A lot of the cloud-based tools available in Office 365 were previously available under the less-friendly name Business Productivity Online Suite. 365 improves on those tools by updating Exchange Online and SharePoint Online to include the features of the 2010 desktop version whereas BPOS had its software bits based on the 2007 versions.

The online services that 365 specifically offers are Office Professional Plus, Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Lync Online, and Office Web Apps. The set of Web Apps are slightly slimmed down versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote that are accessible through a web browser.

Google’s similar Google Apps suite of cloud-based programs offers online e-mail, documents, spreadsheets, and more. Yesterday, Google Apps Product Manager Shan Sinha made the case on a company blog that Apps was a better overall product. Sinha’s main issues with 365 were that it wasn’t built for teams, it costs more, it only focuses on Windows-based platforms, and it has too much dependence on desktop software rather than being 100 percent in the cloud.

Each suite of apps has its own strengths. Google has an edge on price and the ability to work on all platforms, but Microsoft has the edge on familiarity and deep features like Excel formulas and macros. It will be fascinating to see what sort of adoption rate we see in the next year between the two services as more businesses invest in cloud-based systems and software.

Are you interested in checking out Office 365? Would you consider moving from Google Apps to try 365?

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