Microsoft upgrades Office 365 and SkyDrive

Microsoft has given its Office 365 cloud productivity suite its first major revamp, adding support for the 'Mango' flavour of Windows Phone and giving Mac users Lync capabilities.Upgrades to Office 365 and SkyDrive came out on Tuesday, along with news that Office 365 is also now available in 22 more countries, including Argentina, South Africa, Indonesia and Taiwan.

Microsoft has given its Office 365 cloud productivity suite its first major revamp, adding support for the 'Mango' flavour of Windows Phone and giving Mac users Lync capabilities.

Upgrades to Office 365 and SkyDrive came out on Tuesday, along with news that Office 365 is also now available in 22 more countries, including Argentina, South Africa, Indonesia and Taiwan. Office 365 first came out in June, giving Microsoft a successor to its BPOS suite and a more modern competitor to Google Apps.

"We are seeing really positive momentum for Office 365. Customers are adopting Office 365 eight times faster than our previous service, and the [suite] is on track to become one of our fastest-growing offers in Microsoft history," Office division chief Kurt DelBene said in a statement.

There are more than 30 updates for Office 365 and SkyDrive, Microsoft's online file-hosting service.

In a move that could slightly broaden take-up of Microsoft's services, Mac users can now use the Lync instant messaging client, which also offers videoconferencing. Those using Windows Phone 7.5 'Mango' can now access and update documents in SharePoint Online from their handset.

SharePoint Online (SPO) now includes Microsoft's Business Connectivity Services (BCS). This makes it possible for mid-size and enterprise customers to connect to external data sourced via Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) web services endpoints in both read and write modes, Microsoft said.

"Now, you can design solutions that extend collaboration capabilities that include external business data, such as line-of-business applications that sit behind customer firewalls, or are being transitioned to the cloud (think SQL Azure). Best yet, you can download SharePoint Designer 2010 for free to help make the connections," Microsoft said in a separate blog post.

Microsoft said in yet another blog post that the changes to SkyDrive were mostly in response to customer feedback.

One of the major changes is the addition of what Microsoft calls "app-centric sharing", which means the user can share a document from, for example, the Word Web App without having to leave the app to mess around with folder structures.

Customers can now also share their SkyDrive files via email, post them to social networks including Facebook and LinkedIn, or send people a read-only link for a file. Significantly perhaps, Microsoft has also made it possible for upload files and photos using HTML5-based drag-and-drop. Before, SkyDrive relied on Silverlight for "rich upload support".

Meanwhile, rumours are circulating that Microsoft is preparing a version of the Office suite for Apple's iPad tablet. Microsoft has not confirmed these rumours.

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