Maybe it is because Microsoft's Office productivity suite is still the number one office suite of choice for most users around the world that people are always trying to nitpick on it for not being able to match up to their lofty expectations of what a 'proper' office productivity suite is supposed to be. However, even the harshest critic may have to take a back seat with Microsoft's latest Office-related offering for businesses, for Microsoft has just announced in a media event held at The Fullerton Hotel that the public beta for the business-centric cloud-productivity service, Office 365 is now live. So what new features can businesses look forward to with Office 365? Read on to find out more.
As far as Microsoft is concerned, most people are not about to fault the Redmond giant for its contributions to the advancement of technology on the PC and the office productivity front, and for good reason. For one, Microsoft's technological prowess in the aforementioned areas are essentially second to none, and it is thanks to the company that the Windows operating system and Office productivity suite that we take for granted everyday come bundled with various advanced features that are seemingly capable of greatly enhancing and simplifying the average user's digital workflow.
However, the one aspect of Microsoft's pursuit for technological advancement which essentially all critics are only too keen to rat the Redmond giant out on centers around the key aspect of user experience. While Microsoft has been successful in delivering highly advanced technology to the masses, the company often falls flat on its face when it involves making the aforementioned technology easily accessible and usable for the average end-user who seeks an integrated approach to software. And this is the kind of problem Microsoft is hoping to rectify for its enterprise consumers with the introduction of the public beta for the new Office 365 productivity serviced aimed at businesses of all sizes.
Speaking at the event was Microsoft's chief operating office, Kevin Turner, who described the new subscription-based Office 365 as the "future of productivity". Interestingly, it feels as though we had heard this catchphrase somewhere in a previous Microsoft-related event.
"Office 365 includes our latest productivity suites and services. This includes Microsoft Exchange Online for messaging, Sharepoint Online for collaboration and Lync online for unified communications. All these services have been integrated into the main Office client application, along with the latest version of Microsoft's Office Web Apps," he said.
Turner also added that the company's strategic partnership with Starhub will allow it to accelerate the adoption of both the beta and final release versions of Office 365, a fact that was further elaborated on by Starhub's chief operating officer, Tan Tong Hai.
"Starhub will be the go-to market partner for Microsoft and Office 365. If our business consumers ever encounter any problems with the Office 365 service, Starhub will be the party they should get in touch with. We will implement a support structure with Microsoft to ensure that customers will have a peace of mind when they eventually decide to migrate over to Microsoft's cloud productivity service," he said.
Tan added that the upcoming nationwide fiber-optic network, along with the fact that the Office 365 servers will be installed locally, will allow Starhub, along with other broadband service providers, to deliver a better user experience to its customers utilizing Office 365.
Last but not least, Microsoft's product manager for the Information Market Group, Hau Lu, gave a demonstration of how Office 365 has integrated Microsoft Office, Microsoft Exchange Online, Microsoft Sharepoint Online and Microsoft Lync Online into a single unified environment to enhance work efficiency and productivity.
"When we talk about Office 365, we have to think about what businesses need. Businesses need productivity. So how do we improve their productivity? First, we have to enable them to communicate to people in new ways. With a big inbox, we also offer them the best way to efficiently manage their inboxes," he said, while explaining how Outlook in Office 365 offers users full access to their working team's calanders for easier communication and planning.
Integration at its best in Outlook
Hau also spoke on the importance of the need to be able to access one's working files regardless of their location and the type of machine they are using, especially when mobile. To that end, Sharepoint Online Office Web Apps will allow such users to access and edit their content in a web browser with the same familiar environment they have grown to familiarize themselves with in Microsoft Office. And for those who are not keen on using the web browser known as Internet Explorer, Hau has assured users that Web Apps will work perfectly fine with alternative browsers such as Mozilla's Firefox.
Looks so good, you cannot tell you're viewing this on a browser until you see the Internet Explorer 9 UI
Don't want to use IE? Fret not: Web Apps will get the job done with any browser of your choice.
There are slight formatting issues with the Word Web App, but we were assured that these will not carry forward to the final document that will be viewed on the actual Office client
…and you can also get access Onenote via Web Apps. Neat, right?
Last but not least, Hau described how Lync integration in Office 365 allows for users to initiate conversations from withinthe various Office 365 components available.
Last but not least, you might be aware that Microsoft used to offer businesses another cloud-based offering known as Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite or Microsoft BPOS. Unfortunately for BPOS, it seems that its days as an enterprise offering are numbered, as Turner has confirmed that Office 365 will now be Microsoft's default offering to business users, and that BPOS will be retired in favor of Office 365.
"We will have only one brand strategy, and it is all about Office 365. Thank goodness for that." he quipped.
Turner also hinted that Office 365 may be ported to the ARM architecture to allow for Windows 8 and tablet compatibility. But that will probably have to wait until Office 365 is officially released and we start seeing Windows 8 shipping on both traditional PCs and tablet devices. Until then, businesses can test out the public beta of Office 365 at http://www.Office365.com.