Expectations are high that Microsoft will launch Office 365 at the end of June. The cloud-based productivity software represents Redmond's current best chance at driving back the threat presented by Google Apps and similar platforms.
The company has sent media invitations to a June 28 event in New York City, where Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will apparently take the stage to talk Office 365. The actual venue is the Skylight Soho, also the site of Microsoft's Windows 7 launch in October 2009.
While the invite is coy about this being Office 365's actual launch-"Be a part of the live audience in New York City with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to hear the latest about Office 365" is the closest it comes-the choice of venue, combined with Ballmer's presence, suggests the release is indeed close at hand.
"We're pushing hard in the productivity space," Ballmer told an audience during a May 26 speech in Delhi, India, according to a transcript released by Microsoft. "We'll launch our Office 365 cloud service, which gives you Lync and Exchange and SharePoint and Office and more as a subscribable [sic] service that comes from the cloud. That launches in the month of June."
Microsoft launched Office 365's public beta in June. The platform links together Microsoft Office, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Lync Online, all for a starting price of $6 per user per month. Microsoft is also offering an Office 365 Marketplace with productivity apps and professional services. Office 365 is essentially a rebranding of the company's BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite), which bundled products such as SharePoint Online.
That massive public beta followed a limited beta launched in October 2010. Office 365 represents yet another aspect of Microsoft's "all in" cloud strategy, which for the moment centers on pushing a variety of cloud-based IT services to corporations. The push comes just as Microsoft faces competition not only from Google, which wants to secure large IT contracts with corporations and government entities, but also upstarts such as Salesforce.com, which have taken to attacking Microsoft's desktop-centric software offerings as a herd of hopelessly outdated dinosaurs.
Microsoft is arguing that Office 365 will ultimately save companies the money and headaches associated with maintaining on-premises servers and other IT infrastructure. That subscription model also ensures Microsoft a steady stream of month-over-month revenue. But in order to seize that business market, Microsoft will need to face down Google, which is devoting similarly enormous resources to developing and deploying its own cloud-based offerings for small and midsize businesses, as well as the enterprise.