Microsoft Rolls Out New Office 365 Business Editions

Brushing off the threat from SaaS-based rivals, Microsoft debuts editions of its cloud-enabled productivity software aimed at bringing enterprises and SMBs into the Office 365 fold.

Microsoft officially released three new business-flavored versions of its Office 365 product in a bid to thwart the cloud-based competition. And according to the company, its hybrid approach to productivity software is gaining steam.

Microsoft Office general manager Julia White described the product revamp to eWEEK as "the next major upgrade of the Office 365 services for businesses." Along with a lengthy list of tweaks and enhancements, the company Feb. 27 rolled out new editions specifically tailored to the requirements of small, midsized and large enterprises.

Nearly a month after launching Office 365 Home Premium subscriptions for consumers, Microsoft is turning its attention to businesses both big and small. In a statement, Microsoft Office Division President Kurt DelBene said that "with Office 365, everyone from large enterprises to small businesses to individual consumers can now benefit from the power of Office and the connectivity of the cloud."

In a dig at rival cloud application suites, DelBene added that Office 365's hybrid take on business productivity software enables a richer and broader set of functionality compared with SaaS-based approaches. "This release unlocks new scenarios and delivers capabilities that far surpass anything available in browser-only solutions," he said.

Office 365 combines locally installed versions of software components like Outlook, Word and Excel with cloud-based features that enable users to sync their files and data across devices, and if necessary, stream those applications. It's a modern-day manifestation of Microsoft's "software-plus-services" strategy that the company adopted in the early days of its Azure cloud rollout.

It's a strategy that's paying off. "The number of small and midsize businesses using Office 365 has also grown by 150 percent in the past 12 months," Microsoft boasted in a press statement. According to White, just one in seven enterprise customers jumped on the Office 365 bandwagon a year ago. Today, that has narrowed to one in five, she said.

Starting Feb. 27, businesses can subscribe to Office 365 plans that better match their employee headcounts and meet their requirements for user productivity. For example, the new ProPlus option bundles Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, InfoPath and Access, along with the option to install them on up to five devices.

"ProPlus will change the way users experience Office," said White. She added that whether signing on from work, home or on the road, a "customized Office experience," complete with synchronized and up-to-date documents and settings, awaits users. For Office 365 Enterprise customers, that includes Yammer social enterprise features that also made their debut on Feb. 27.

IT staffers get some perks, too.

With Office 365 ProPlus, Microsoft is "bringing down the friction" of desktop software deployment, said White. Updates "stream straight from the cloud in the background," she said, allowing administrators to update their environments at practically the flip of a switch. In good news for administrators who are weary of accommodating stuck-in-their-ways workers, Office 365 ProPlus can run alongside older versions of Office.

Office 365 ProPlus is available now and costs $144 per user for an annual subscription.

Joining ProPlus is a Midsize Business offering intended for workplaces with 10 to 250 employees. This edition builds on ProPlus and offers Exchange Online, Lync Online, SharePoint Online and Active Directory integration. Office 365 Midsize Business is priced at $180 per user per year.

Lastly, Microsoft also launched Office 365 Small Business Premium (one to 10 users). Priced at $150 per user, it adds email, shared calendars, Website creation and HD videoconferencing to the core Office application suite.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...