Microsoft Trying to Solve Office 365 Perception Problem

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2012-08-06

Verizon Wireless Deal Adds Momentum to Microsoft's Move to the Cloud

Verizon Wireless has begun selling Microsoft Office 365 as a part of the company€™s Small Business Essentials portfolio. The package is designed for businesses ranging in size from one to 50 employees, and supports collaboration, voice and video conferencing, document sharing and instant messaging. The Verizon Wireless package will cost $6 per month, which can be added to the users€™ phone bills.

Microsoft Office 365 is a cloud-based version of the widely used Microsoft Office. The importance of Microsoft Office 365 became more significant when Microsoft revealed that it would introduce Office 2013 first as a part of Office 365. The cloud-based Office 365 being offered by Verizon Wireless for the company€™s mobile devices will run on Windows Phone, Android phones (but not tablets), iOS and BlackBerry devices.

Sprint announced a similar plan for Office 365 on July 31, but so far has declined to say when it would be available. A Sprint spokesperson told eWEEK only that the product release was planned for €œsometime this year.€ By contrast, Verizon Wireless began offering Office 365 on Aug. 6 at Verizon stores, online, through field and telephone sales and third-party Verizon sales outlets.

The Verizon Wireless Small Business Essentials package includes some services in addition to Office 365. Verizon is providing tier-one support, with what the company said would be a €œseamless€ transition to tier-two support when needed. That apparently means there won€™t be long hold times.

Verizon€™s support includes help setting up the product and migrating from other cloud services such as Google Apps. Office 365 includes a wide range of cloud-based Office productivity software including Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook and a version of SharePoint for collaboration. The package also includes Lync, a corporate instant message, audio and video conferencing product.

This is the third high-profile partnership Microsoft has announced for Office 365. In addition to the deal with Sprint, Microsoft also announced a deal with Dell to offer Office 365 for $9 per month. The pricing is similar to what customers can get buying directly from Microsoft, although both Verizon Wireless and Sprint are planning to offer value added services beyond what Microsoft offers and they plan to add the charge to customers€™ phone bills.

€œOur small businesses and entrepreneurs consistently rank two priorities the highest when it comes to using productivity tools to run their business: simplicity and cost effectiveness,€ said Michael C. Schaefer, executive director, Wireless Business Solutions, Verizon Wireless, in a prepared statement.

€œWe included Office 365 with Small Business Essentials to address these needs.  Plus, we also want to emphasize it is scalable€“which is ideal for companies in the growing segment of up to 50 employees.

With all of our SMB-related products and services, our goal is to help customers expedite their workflow so they can work smarter, faster and more efficiently. Customers also have the advantage when they utilize our fast 4G LTE network, which is available in over 330 markets across the United States.€

Microsoft Trying to Solve Office 365 Perception Problem

In a later interview, Schaefer told eWEEK that Microsoft Office 365 was part of a larger suite of services including a Small Business Advisor site that is designed to help users find the apps for their mobile devices that they need for their specific type of business. €œIt€™s a great value proposition,€ Schaefer said.

It€™s also a great value for Microsoft, whose Office 365 has been fighting an uphill battle against Google for some time. Despite Microsoft€™s dominance in the office productivity world for computer-based applications, its cloud applications, including Office 365, have had trouble getting traction. But three partnerships with companies that focus on SMBs as well as the importance for Windows 8 users seem to make it likely that Microsoft Office 365 will start picking up steam.

But that doesn€™t mean Microsoft is home free. While Office 365 is excellent software, so is the Google offering. Plus, because the cloud-based versions of Office are less fully featured than the desktop applications, they give the impression of not being a good value, even though they offer approximately the same or better functionality as Google Apps. Here the problem is one of perception and that€™s a tough battle for Microsoft to fight. As we here in Washington have known for decades (or longer) perception is more real than reality itself.

But Microsoft has put together a plan to combat that problem of perception. Microsoft€™s free, cloud-based version of Outlook provides much of what you get with the version of Outlook that comes with Microsoft Office. There are limitations, of course, and not all functions of Outlook are available, but it€™s a very nice, full-featured Web mail program that€™s easy to use and more intuitive than most.

Outlook is just the first of the cloud-based applications that Microsoft is producing to woo people away from Google. Microsoft may be on to something there. It doesn€™t appear that Microsoft is mining your email for personal information to the extent that Google does. More important, the new cloud version of Outlook will work nicely on most tablets and phones and it helps users understand that Microsoft can create a sleek, responsive cloud app and that€™s the first step in changing perceptions.

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