While the public beta opened yesterday, Office 365 isn't exactly a brand new development—it's essentially a rebranding of Microsoft's BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite) and was originally launched in limited beta in October 2010.
Then again, if you're going to be editing a web-based version of, say, your 1,500-page novel-in-progress, it's probably a good thing someone else has been kicking the tires for a while.
Cloud-based productivity software has been around for a while (cough Google Docs cough), but take note: Office 365 is much more than simply a web version of Office 2010. Office 365 is comprised of cloud-based versions of Microsoft's four front-running business products. That does include Office, but also bundles in Exchange, Sharepoint (a platform for document sharing and collaboration), and Lync (a service that provides IM, video conferencing, PC phone calling, and more).
Why should you care about Office 365? Here are 3 reasons the service might be for you:
It's mobile. As long as you have an Internet connection, you've got the tools and services in Office 365, no matter what computer you're using. Data can be accessed from or synced among a desktop PC, the web, and your smartphone (assuming you have a Windows Phone 7).
It's maintained. With a 99.9% uptime guarantee and Microsoft being responsible for all the general server and IT maintenance, Office 365 may be a great choice for small businesses that don't have a dedicated IT person.
It's affordable. Microsoft Office 2010 Professional costs almost $400 on Amazon, and Office 365 starts at $6 per month.
It's true that Google offers many of the same benefits in terms of overhead, maintenance, availability, and cost. However, if you want that familiar Office platform (and you need the full feature set that's often stripped from the Google Apps), Office 365 is looking like a smart move from Microsoft. As a freelancer who doesn't work in Office documents by default but often has to share them, I can see this being a much better investment than a $400 suite that's tied to one computer.
Do you plan to use Office 365?
Image via Microsoft