Microsoft have just launched Office 365, a new service aimed at professionals and small businesses wanting to move their day to day office technology into the cloud. I think that many of those who have reviewed the service have failed to “get” what Microsoft are trying to do with Office 365. Here’s my take on that.
It seems clear that Microsoft are aiming Office 365 at small businesses (that’s fewer than 25 users to them). Of course, it will scale-up, but the marketing messages for “midsize businesses and enterprises” are a click away behind the main homepage. The main strapline is “Collaboration for everyone” and I think this positions the product from the outset – it’s for businesses that don’t have large, internal IT departments.
I found the sign-up process very straightforward and was quickly into the service. Following sign-up, Office 365 sets up its core services you; these being Exchange Online, Lync and SharePoint Online.
Many of those looking at Office 365 for the first time will have been expecting to see the Office applications (such as Word and Excel) front and centre. In reality these are presented very much as ancillary to the core services, which is consistent with the product’s positioning.
Microsoft are promoting “collaboration for everyone” and Exchange Online and SharePoint Online are all about collaboration. They also happen to be complicated server technologies that, for a typical small business, are a real challenge to implement on-premise. Those same small businesses have no problems with Word and Excel installations.
Many small business owners will not be familiar with SharePoint but most will have struggled to maintain their own Exchange Server installation. I know I did, and eventually gave up trying - moving to a hosted email service instead.
Group email and calendars are absolutely core to any small business IT, so I think this was the right place for Microsoft to start in Office 365. By removing a massive key pain point for small businesses, Office 365 should gain immediate credibility and goodwill with users. The confidence thus engendered will make it more likely that new users will be comfortable exploring the other functionality, particularly the collaboration and document management features of SharePoint.
Yes, the web versions of Word and Excel are there too, but most of Office 365’s target market will have their needs covered by the desktop versions of those. This new offering is about email and collaboration – with some very nice added extras for users to discover and build into their new way of working.