With Office 365 you get what amounts to a two-for-one deal from Steve Ballmer: You get the Web-based office tools -- including limited versions of Outlook, Word and Excel and access to the company's Web servers and email tools -- and the ability to connect all that to on-premises versions of the Microsoft Office software on your computer.
Yes, it's confusing, but the two-for-one discount packs real benefits. First, at least in my first-blush testing, the Web-based riffs of Microsoft Office work pretty well. The stripped down, online versions of Outlook, Word and Excel behave mostly as their on-premises cousins do. And there are nice features such as Lync Online, which enables basic chat. The Web-based versions of SharePoint and Exchange support quality company intranets and secure email, at least in the single seat I am using. And with enough tinkering -- more on that later -- the PC-based full versions of Word, Excel and all the rest connect effectively to the Web-based system. Best of all, the whole system can be tightly managed from a central location, which offers a nice, cozy level of security.
So at least in theory, your business gets a relatively affordable means to have both the power of Web-based collaboration and the functionality of software that runs on your PC.
What isn't it?
Office 365 is neither a first-quality Web experience nor something you or your people are going to understand, at least to start.
For sure, anybody with skin in the office software game should take a look at this beta, if only to get a feel for what Microsoft is up to. I expect you will find Office 365 surprisingly powerful. But(!) I would definitely hold off deploying this tool in an active office until the beta develops a bit. It just too early to say whether Redmond's attempt to ride the Web wave will send them gracefully up on the beach ... or crush them utterly out on the rocks. >To submit a news tip, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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