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What is Microsoft Office 365, What Does It Cost, and What is the Release Date for Office 365?

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If you’ve caught wind of Microsoft Office 365, you may wonder what makes it so different than the more standard Microsoft Office 2010. In a nutshell, Office 365 takes all of the original Microsoft Office functionality and moves it into the cloud, which is another way of saying that instead of working from local installations of Microsoft Office or Exchange Servers, you’ll connect to those services provided by Microsoft via the Internet. This may put you on edge, but the truth is if you’ve used web-based e-mail like Gmail or Yahoo – or even Google Docs – you’re already working in the cloud.

Microsoft Office 365 will include four major components: Microsoft Office, Exchange Online, Office Sharepoint Online, and Lync Online. Here’s a quick description of the functionality of those components.

  •  Microsoft Office includes all the functionality of Office Professional Plus (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc) and Office Web Apps.
  •  Exchange Online provides cloud-based e-mail, calendar, and contacts viewable on almost all internet-accessible devices like cell phones and laptops.
  •  Office SharePoint Online will allow collaboration through social networking features. 
  •  Lync Online provides cloud-based instant messaging, online meetings, and audio / video conferencing.

Naturally, because it’s Microsoft, Office 365 will come in a variety of plans with differing prices and features. Currently, Microsoft is planning three packages: Office 365 for Small Business, Office 365 for Enterprises, and Office 365 for Education. Once more, here’s a quick overview of the features and pricing of each plan.

Office 365 for Small Businesses is targeted to businesses that don’t have a wealth of IT resources, so most of the IT management will be handled by Microsoft directly. Additionally, this plan includes tools to quickly build websites. The price of Office 365 for small businesses will be $6 per user per month.

Office 365 for Enterprises targets larger businesses, and allows for IT integration. These plans afford for 24 hour IT-level support via phone, web, or e-mail. Additionally, this plan is broken down to provide benefits to existing Business Productivity Online customers. The cost of Office 365 for those organizations can upgrade to Office 365 for$10-$27 per user per month.

And finally, Office 365 for Education is naturally targeting schools and universities. While Microsoft has yet to announce availability details for education packages, they have revealed that Office 365 tools will be available for free to the K-12 market.

As you can see, from the implementation to the pricing structure, Microsoft Office 365 is a fundamentally different way of delivering and maintaining an Office application. No longer will you have to worry about pushing out updates, updating anti-virus definitions, or wrestling with finicky Exchange Servers all on your own. However, whether you’re already sold on the product or not, you’ll have to wait until the product is made available next year. Until then, you can apply to beta test Microsoft Office 365 though the official website.

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