Microsoft Details MS Office 365, an Online Office Suite

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Microsoft has formally unveiled the most comprehensive online version of its MS Office software to date. "Office 365," as it's called, is currently being beta tested in 13 countries and it's expected to be publicly available in 40 countries next year.

MS Office 365 Uses Cloud Computing Technology

The idea behind Office 365 is that it uses cloud computing technology. It's a service that allows businesses to access Office tools over the Internet, rather than have to physically install the software on a per-machine basis. The concept also means employees can access Office from any machine; for example, when working away from the office.

A cloud computing project also means there is more opportunity for collaborative work when workers in separate locations need to review a document together. (Source:

Users of the Office 365 package get access to online editions of three sets of unique applications in addition to the typical Office suite: SharePoint (a filesharing and web publishing package), Exchange (server mail system) and Lync (an instant messaging, video conferencing and Internet-phone system).

MS Office 365 Offers Significantly Reduced Cost

Because companies will no longer need to buy server equipment to run collaborative software (such as Microsoft Exchange) across an entire network, the costs incurred by businesses will decrease significantly.

In the closest thing to a direct comparison, the premium edition of rival cloud offering Google Apps costs $50 per user each year, while Office 365 will start from $75 for firms with fewer than 25 employees. However, the complete package can be as high as $288 per user each year, depending on the options selected.

MS Office 365 School Edition Planned

The company also has plans to expand the service. It's planning to add its Dynamics software, designed for customer relationship management. And towards the end of 2011, Microsoft expects to launch an education-specific edition of Office 365 for use in schools.

The package has already attracted one high-profile customer: New York's city government, which was already using Microsoft Office software, has signed up for Office 365. (Source:

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