Microsoft Office 365 Profiled at Gartner Conference

Microsoft offered a look at its new cloud-based Office 365 platform at this week's Gartner conference, trying to capture its own piece of the cloud movement.

ORLANDO, Fla.-Microsoft offered a glimpse of its cloud-based Office 365 during this week's Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2010 here, suggesting to the assembled IT pros that the platform will allow their organizations to stay up-to-date with the latest versions of Microsoft Office, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Lync Online.

"With Office 365, we're delivering everything we know about productivity as a subscription service," John Betz, Microsoft's director of product management for Business Online Services, told an audience during a conference session Oct. 20. "We're also updating the back ends of Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online to the 2010 version."

Microsoft released Office 365 in limited beta launch Oct. 19. General availability is expected in 2011. It is essentially a rebranding of the company's BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite), which bundled products such as SharePoint Online.

Microsoft is also interested in selling Office 365 as a customizable platform, allowing companies with simpler needs to access fewer products for a lesser monthly fee. Those enterprises with a need for robust online productivity can pay for the broader version; one more expensive option includes Microsoft Office Professional Plus desktop software with e-mail, voice mail, enterprise social networking, Web portals and other features for a monthly cost of $24 per user.

Betz also referred to Lync as "Facebook for the enterprise," echoing language used by other companies-including describe their cloud-based, social-networking-centric applications. "Colleagues can publish things they want to share, and that will be discoverable within the organization. ... It should be very familiar to you."

He also suggested that online applications would make it easier for businesses to stay current. "The promise of cloud computing is the promise to stay up-to-date with the latest that Microsoft has to offer," he said, adding: "So, with cloud delivery, Office 365 will do that updating for you."

Despite its reputation as a desktop-centric entity, Microsoft has been aggressive in pushing what it calls an "all in" cloud strategy, major components of which involve pushing a variety of cloud-based IT services to corporations. The strategy comes just as Web-centric upstarts such as have started attacking many of Microsoft's current offerings as outdated.

During his Oct. 19 keynote talk at the Gartner conference, CEO Marc Benioff asked the audience how many of them stayed current with their organizations' current software versions. "How many SAP customers are on the current version ... how many Oracle customers ... how many Microsoft? Fractions. This model has to change."

In virtually every speech, Benioff offers his vision of the cloud as an entity evolving into a more mobile-centric, social-networking-driven form-something to which he refers as "Cloud 2." offers SAAS (software as a service) to companies via a subscription model, and has found itself locked in legal and marketplace combat with Microsoft at several junctures over the past few quarters.

"Our industry is changing," Benioff told his Gartner audience. "Now we're moving into the Facebooks, the Twitters, the iPads, the Androids, the BlackBerry Torches, and you get this transformation that's happening."

But Microsoft also seems to recognize that a paradigm shift is afoot.