Microsoft Releases Office 365 Public Beta

Microsoft has released the first wide public beta of Office 365, the company's widely anticipated cloud-based productivity suite.

Office 365 brings Office to the cloud and integrates with Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync. It also upgrades the online versions of the company's core messaging, collaboration, and telephony offerings (Business Productivity Online Suite or BPOS for short) and provides an Office suite as traditional software and as Web-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Details about the features can be found in Office 365 Beta Sneak Peek: 12 Key Features.

When Microsoft announced the new branding in October, the company also offered a beta that was limited to 100,000 organizations. The release of the new beta marks an important milestone for Office 365, bringing it closer to general availability. According to several reports, Microsoft will make Office 365 commercially available this summer, though company officials are only saying it will be released later this year.

The new beta is available in 38 countries and 17 languages, and is available for download here. The versions available for testing include the small-business and enterprise editions.

The small-business version is aimed at organizations with 25 employees or fewer (it maxes out at 50) and consists of the Web-based versions of Exchange and Office. The enterprise edition offers archiving and IT administration, including integration with an organization's Active Directory and the option for the Microsoft Office Professional Plus edition. The latter offers the full Microsoft Office Plus client, supporting integration with Exchange, SharePoint and Lync Online.

Microsoft on Monday also announced the Office 365 Marketplace, an exchange that will let developers of Office apps offer customized programs. So far, 100 apps and 400 professional services are posted on the new marketplace, Microsoft said. Among the apps available on the marketplace are LiveOffice Personal Archive from LiveOffice, Audio Conferencing for Lync Online offered by PGi, SideKick 365-XRM from Skylite Systems Inc. and SocialFactor 365 from Calinda Software.

On the professional services front, PointBridge posted its Exchange implementation services, Vorsite listed its Office 365 customization services and Melbourne IT listed a domain name registration and management offering.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.