There is a lot of talk about moving your business to the cloud. Many people also say you can save your business money by moving your productivity applications such as email, word processing, spreadsheets to the cloud. There are many cloud services out there that provide productivity application, but not many of those are consolidated into one service. Microsoft’s answer to web based productivity suites is Office 365. Microsoft Office 365 includes online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook, as well as Lync and Sharepoint. These are powerful and comprehensive tools that provide the best value for small business with an enterprise service.
Office 365 provides web versions of the popular desktop office apps. If you are familiar with Office 2007 or Office 2010, you will feel confortable with its web versions. When compared to other cloud based productivity providers such are Google Apps or Zoho Docs, Office 365 provides more options for you such as fonts and styles that appear similar and feel comparable to its desktop counterpart. There are subscription plans available that give you both web and desktop versions. If you have a desktop version you can save your files to provided online storage and can be accessed anywhere with office web app. Documents or files created within Office 365 are compatible with its desktop versions
Office 365 provides some real-time collaboration capabilities in Excel and OneNote, but not in Word and PowerPoint. Microsoft recently rolled out a coauthoring function for the Word Web App, but it works only when you’re sharing files from the Windows Live SkyDrive file storage service, and when you’re using the Word Web App; it doesn’t work with Office 365.
However, Office 365 handily makes up for the lack of native collaboration within documents by making it easy to set up an online whiteboard session through its Lync Online service. With Lync Online, you can share and collaborate in real time on any item on your desktop. External contacts can join online meetings using the Lync client application, or a Web-based client.
Among Google Apps, Office 365, and Zoho Docs, Microsoft’s offering stands tall, as this suite provides the most storage space by default. The basic Office 365 plan gives you 2GB of data storage space on SharePoint Online; additional space costs $2.50 per gigabyte per user per month. For email, each user has 25GB, the same as Google Apps, on the entry-level plan–but higher Office 365 plans have unlimited email storage. Office 365 also has the biggest file attachments allowed, at 35MB.
With SharePoint Workspace, you can sync data from Office 365 SharePoint Online for offline access.
How Much Does It Cost
Office 365 has a variety of plans for companies of different sizes and needs. The plan comparable to what Google Apps and Zoho Docs each provide is $6 per user per month (price as of August 26, 2011). Office 365 offers slightly more features and capabilities than the other two, so the additional dollar per user per month seems justified. When you start looking at the more advanced–and more expensive–choices from Microsoft, though, it becomes harder to make a direct comparison.
For an extra $15 per month, Office 365 users can also get the license to download the desktop Office 2010 Professional suite. At $21 per user per month, this is a significantly more costly path than the Web-only products. However, it adds functionality lacking in the Office Web Apps, and it allows users to be productive even when no Internet connection is available.
The Office 2010 Professional suite costs $410 at Amazon, so the $252 per year for the bundled online package is a short-term savings; it will cost more in the long run when that $252 becomes $504 over two years. The value of this package depends on how long you plan to use the Office 2010 suite before upgrading, and on how much benefit you will receive from having the added functionality of the desktop suite.
Office 365 is the clear winner among online productivity suites. It isn’t the cheapest, but arguably it provides the best overall value. The core productivity tools in Office 365 have the best compatibility with desktop Microsoft Office software, and the addition of Lync Online and SharePoint Online supplies additional capabilities that are well worth the extra investment.