By Woody Leonhard
Trick question: when is Office not Office? When it’s Office 365, of course.
On Monday, Microsoft revealed its latest beta version of Office 365. For some small businesses — even some individuals — it may be worth the price.
The first thing you have to understand about Office 365 (info page) is that it isn’t Office. In spite of the name, Office 365 isn’t a new version of Office at all. It’s a rebranding of server services Microsoft has offered for years, with a bit more sizzle and a different marketing slant (and presumably a much larger marketing budget).
Microsoft could have explained the product much more accurately by calling it “Exchange-SharePoint-Lync for Rent” and by emphasizing that you don’t need to run Exchange, SharePoint, or Lync on your own hardware. You can rent time on Microsoft’s servers, and MS will do all the heavy lifting over the Internet.
Deconstructing Office 365 and its components
Unlike Windows Azure, which targets a very techy crowd, Office 365 reaches for the masses. You don’t need a degree in computer science, much less a Ph.D. in Windows Server, to get Office 365 up and running for yourself or for your organization. If you’ve ever wished that you or your company could run Exchange Server, SharePoint Server, or Lync — but you balked because you didn’t want to go to the considerable hassle of running your own server or hiring a consultant to set up Windows Small Business Server — this is your chance.
In the World According to Office 365, Microsoft runs the servers, and you and your organization attach to them over the Internet. Microsoft also provides more-or-less foolproof, dumbed-down front-end software, so you can make Exchange/SharePoint/Lync work more in the way you want them to — sort of. Microsoft also provides online and phone support for when you inevitably shoot yourself in the foot.