After months of invitation-only access, today Microsoft announced availability of the public beta for Office 365
, so businesses eager to sample the company's cloud wares can now get aboard. Originally introduced last October, at which time a limited, private beta was released, Office 365 replaces Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), but is based on the latest releases of Microsoft's communications stack: Exchange Server 2010, SharePoint 2010, and Lync 2010. It also adds Microsoft Office, either as the online Office Web Apps or a downloadable desktop version of Office 2010, depending on subscription level.
A lot of people look at Office 365 as a game-changer in the hosted space. Microsoft is offering a complete messaging and collaboration package which few can match, let alone beat, and it's mostly applications and technology that are quite familiar to most businesses. Many organizations still won't or can't consider moving messaging systems to a hosted service, but for those that are interested, Office 365 makes a lot of sense—and it's available in a variety of pricing options to suit different business sizes and needs.
When I spoke to Microsoft vice president for Exchange Server, Rajesh Jha, about the future of Exchange, he had this to say about the success of the Office 365 private beta: "I'm very excited about the feedback we've gotten from the beta customers to date. It's a big responsibility for us in terms of taking over our customers' IT infrastructure. We understand the relationship of trust that we have with our customers. So we've got a lot of work ahead, but we're excited about the opportunity." You can read more of what Jha had to say in
"Exchange 2010 Architecture: Microsoft's Rajesh Jha Talks About the Future of Exchange."
As part of today's announcement, Microsoft also introduced the
Office 365 Marketplace
, which is intended as a place to bring together customers with Microsoft partners who provide Office 365 support apps or services. The marketplace lets you browse by app or service, and narrow into categories such as "Business Need" or "Industry Focus" to find solutions to meet your needs. Initially, it appears the selection is heavily skewed toward services, but Microsoft promises additions "over time."
Office 365 website
for information about joining the beta. We'll have more detailed features about Office 365 coming soon. In the meantime, here's a list of some of the coverage from the private beta phase.