In my previous post I was talking in general terms about why BPOS was a sound idea. The recent announcement of Ray Ozzie’s retirement set people quoting his mantra “Three screens and a cloud” – the three screens being Computer, Mobile device, and TV.  The unwritten part of “Three screens” is recognising their diversity: people should interact with the best possible client – which means adapting to the specifics of each “screen”; it’s not “any browser and a cloud”: many phone apps do something which PCs do in the browser, they only exist because of the need to give a different experience on a different kind of screen. Instead of seeing a monolithic website (which in reality probably wasn’t monolithic) we see an app which consumes a service (probably the same service which was behind the web site). 

But there was more than publishing stuff using services instead of HTML pages; more even than the likes of Groove or Live Meeting which used the cloud to enable new things.  From Ozzie’s vision, famously expressed in 2005, came a realization that services already used by business PCs and devices would increasingly be in the cloud, instead of on an organizations own servers. That was the cue to provide Exchange as a service, SharePoint as a service and so on. We’ve tried to make a distinction between “Software as a Service” – which in some people’s minds is “Any browser and a cloud” and “Software PLUS Services” – which covers a plethora of client software: from multi-player games on Xbox to iTunes to Outlook talking to an Exchange server. But when Office Outlook on a PC accesses Exchange-Online , Exchange is software and it is provided as a service –it just isn’t accessed using a browser: I haven’t yet seen a successful way to make the distinction between the two kinds of “Software as a service” just understand it has different meanings depending on who is speaking.

I don’t know if it was planned but it seemed fitting that we should announce the next generation of BPOS on the day after Ray’s announcement.  I prefer the new name Office 365.  Mary Jo Foley posted something headed “This is not Office in the cloud” – in which she says “this was not some out-of-the-blue change in Microsoft’s business model. Microsoft is still pushing Office first and foremost as a PC-based software package.” Which is spot on: if you need office in a browser, Office Web App is there but it is not a replacement. I wrote in the previous post about the challenges of providing SharePoint, Exchange and so on, it is not Office but the services behind Office which are in the cloud. The key points of Office 365 are these:

  • At it’s core are the latest versions of the Server Software (Lync replaces Office Communications Server and provides Live Meeting functionality, and both Exchange and SharePoint are updated).  The FAQ page has a link to explain what happens to existing BPOS customers (and there are plenty of them – sending 167 million e-mails a day).
  • The ability to create a Public website (previously part of Office Live Small Business) has moved into Office 365 (Again the FAQ page explains what will happen to Office Live Small Business)
  • The update to SharePoint 2010 enables us to offer Office Web Apps – so documents can be viewed in high fidelity and edited from the browser.
  • Despite the the presence of Office Web Apps the main client will be Office on Desktop computers : Office Professional Plus for the desktop is now available as a part of the package on the same monthly subscription basis
  • There is a-la-carte pricing for individual parts of the suite and bundles known as plans targeted at different market segments.

I think the a-la-carte pricing option is a good thing – though some are bound to say “Microsoft are offering too many options”. The plans are just the combinations of cloud services we think will be popular; services can be added to a plan or bought standalone – for example “Kiosk” workers can get on the company e-mail system with Outlook web access from $2.  We’ve announced that the plans will cost between $4 to $27 per month,  that one of the enterprise plans closely mirrors the current BPOS at the same $10/user/month, and that there will be $6 plan with the features we think small business will need. In the run up to the launch I did see some details of different plans and options but I haven’t seen all of these in the announcements and it is not impossible that they will be fine tuned before the system goes fully live.  When will that be? The launch has a beta programme (sign-up is at http://office365.microsoft.com) , Mary-Jo said back in July that the plan was for full launch was early 2011 which sounds about right – it’s also necessarily vague, because a beta might reveal a lot of unexpected work to be done: if you want a more precise date I always say in these cases those who know won’t talk, and those who talk don’t know. 

We’ve positioned Office 365 as helping small businesses to think big and big business to act fast  – the link gives examples which range from the Starwood hotel chain to a single independent restaurant – it’s worth taking time to work out what it might mean to the organization(s) you work in/with: the cloud might be right for you, it might not - but if it isn’t I’d want to be able to explain why not and not have people think an opportunity was being missed through inertia.

This post now appears on my new blog (http://jamesone111.wordpress.com )  -  James O’Neill’s blog Thinking about the cloud Part 2 office 365