It's been a year since Microsoft released Office 365, its Google Apps competitor. To mark the occasion, the Redmondians are making Office 365 for Education will be broadly available, starting today, June 27.
The core Office 365 offering includes Microsoft-hosted Exchange, SharePoint and Lync, supplemented by Webified versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote (known together as Office Web Apps). Users have the option of licensing locally-installed copies of Office 2010 Professional Plus, which Microsoft charges for on an annual subscription basis.
Microsoft officials have been reticent to share numbers regarding Office 365 sales and repeated today that the company is still not sharing updated customer or revenue numbers for the offering. However, at one point (in September 2011), one high-ranking Softie did say that Microsoft had signed up 5 million seats of Office 365. An additional data point shared by Microsoft officials was Microsoft's claim that than 90 percent of Office 365 customers were small-business users. (Today's Microsoft press release seemingly sought to make it clear that this doesn't mean higher-end enterprise users aren't moving to Office 365, too, however.)
There are different Office 365 SKUs -- not just plans -- as well. The Standard offering is for users who are OK with their data being stored on Microsoft's multitenant servers. There's also a Dedicated SKU, a recently unveiled Office 365 for Government SKU, and the aforementioned Education SKU.
The Office 365 for Education is the successor to Microsoft's current Live@Edu bundle. Microsoft has been working to move its customers (mentally, at least) from Live@Edu to Office 365 for Education for more than a year. If you want nitty-gritty transition details, I'd suggest this Microsoft Wiki page on Live@Edu to Office 365 for Education migration.
Earlier this year, Microsoft took the wraps off the three "A" plans that are part of Office 365 for Education, and cut the price of its A2 plan for faculty and staff to zero. (That basic plan already was free for students.) Here's Microsoft's full rundown on what's included in Office 365 Plans A2, A3 and A4
Google Apps for Education is the head-to-head competitor of Office 365 for Education. Google and Microsoft have traded barbs and case studies regarding schools choosing each of their respective solutions for the past year-plus.
Microsoft also announced today that Office 365 is now available in 46 new markets, bringing total availability to 88 markets and 32 languages.