As Mary Jo Foley reported on Tuesday, Microsoft is readying the latest version of BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite) in test form next week. Tied in with this is an organisational restructure which leaves Live@edu, the student email service, expected to be ported over to Microsoft Online Services.
BPOS offers a range of services, including Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Office Communications in the cloud to reduce in-house costs, and provides a fairer pricing option depending on the number of users.
Live@edu however is free for universities, colleges and schools. But shifting the Live@edu service to the internal organisation of Microsoft which focuses on business services and productivity for a fee will shed light on the future offerings of the next version of the service.
SharePoint was added to Live@edu this time last year, along with consumer services such as SkyDrive which also included the long awaited Office Web Apps. Though, the news that Office Web Apps would be coming to BPOS during the next release would suggest that Live@edu was not being ported over to Online Services per se, more rather the two units are being smushed together.
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The merging of the two units increase the likelihood of greater features and services available to students who use Live@edu, which vastly outnumber Google Apps for Education users.
Live@edu services, such as the email provided through Outlook Live, have already been transferred to Microsoft Online Services in some instances. The logging out page gave it away:
A draft document which was uploaded to a University of Washington staff blog earlier this year in June (mirrored here) explains the merging of Live@edu and BPOS, as well as the optional for-fee services to strengthen the Live@edu business model.
Though the BPOS v2 test release date is expected next week, the draft document expected the test build to be out in August just gone, indicating the timeline for the final release of BPOS v2 has been pushed back to early 2011. Mary Jo Foley explained earlier this year the expected new features of BPOS which are covered in the draft document.
So what can we expect from the merger?
- Live@edu to share the same infrastructure as BPOS, meaning the potential for better up-time and coordinated updates to services. However, with recent outages this could force Microsoft to ensure greater reliability if they are to support more than one major service from the same datacenter.
- Optional 'for-fee' add-ons to include SharePoint Online and Office Communicator (OCS) Online services, for instant messaging and greater collaboration. The Live@edu service will remain free, but offer additional service for a maintenance fee. (It seems that both of these are around $5 per month per user, though this may be outdated since June).
- SAML-based federated authentication for a single sign-on solution which rolls out across the campus ecosystem.
- Potentially new in-built free features in Live@edu v2 where users will have access to Office Communicator Online by standard, or even ForeFront Online for Exchange to act as a email spam and anti-virus solution.
- Easier migration from Live@edu to BPOS where if the school decides to port users from the free to the paid service, the rollover will be quicker and more efficient.
- A greater potential for Live@edu v2 which could be part of the announcement next week.
There could be many reasons as to why Live@edu and BPOS are becoming closer. Already we have seen Live@edu go from a completely free service, to a free service with optional additional cloud products for a fee, competing with an enterprise cloud productivity suite aimed at businesses. Some are even migrating from in-house Exchange servers to outsourced Exchange Online for staff and research postgraduates to reduce overall costs.
Next week, the BPOS announcement (expecting to announce 'v2' or officially, 10.3) will probably have some form of announcement relating to Live@edu also. At this point, it is expected that Live@edu will become part of BPOS as a separate sub-category or part of "other hosted services".
Could this be a subtle move to wean universities, colleges and schools off Live@edu to generate revenue? Not while Google Apps for Education and IBM LotusLive is in the picture.