Microsoft christens its cloud business suite as 'Office 365'; launches beta

Microsoft is rechristening its Businesss Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) and Live@edu suites as "Office 365" and is launching a limited beta of the business version of the suite on October 19.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft is rechristening its Businesss Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) and Live@edu suites as "Office 365" and is launching a limited beta of the business version of the suite on October 19.

The codename for what some have called BPOS v2 was "Union," according to my sources. Microsoft was rumored to be changing the final name of the new suite to Union, but that's not the case, it turns out. Microsoft chose Office 365 to reflect "dependability every day of the year," according to officials. (The recent BPOS uptime track record has been not quite so dependable, but it's an aspiration....)

A look at Office 365 (screenshots)

Office 365 is the new name for BPOS, going forward. There will be small-business, mid-size/enterprise, government and educational versions of the product, Microsoft officials said today. Office 365 for Education is the new name for Live@Edu.

Microsoft execs said today that Office 365 will be available starting in 2011. (They won't say anything more detailed than that.) A few thousand customers in 13 countries will get their hands on the beta starting today. Microsoft also is folding Dynamics CRM Online into the Office 365 suite in some way in 2011, officials said today. Microsoft also is allowing users to add Office Professional Plus, an on-premises version of Office 2010, to its Office 365 bundle.

It's been known for some time that Microsoft was refreshing its BPOS elements with a number of the features it has delivered (or soon will deliver, in the case of its Lync offering) as part of its "Wave 14" on-premises software releases. Exchange Online in the new version of BPOS will get features from Exchange Server 2010 Service Pack 1. SharePoint Online will get some of the features -- especially the Office Web Apps support -- that are part of the SharePoint Server 2010 release. Lync Online will get selected features from the Lync Server 2010 product that Microsoft is expected to release to manufacturing any day now. (The Live Meeting conferencing product, which used to be part of the BPOS bundle, is being subsumed by Lync.)

Microsoft has been telling customers and partners for months that the new version of BPOS was in the pipeline. At TechEd and the Worldwide Partner Conference, the Softies gave attendees information about some the coming features, and promised a beta build of the new BPOS would be out before year-end.

On the promised feature list, in addition to updates to the core products in the suite, were also single sign-on with identity federation; a redesigned User Interface (for the console); More administration and access control; support for new markets and languages; and an enhanced Syndication partner interface. (”Syndication” is Microsoft’s program allowing mostly telco companies, but also some other partners to private-label its BPOS services.) Microsoft officials said to expect some of these features to arrive before the end of 2010, but not to expect all of them to show up until the second half of 2011.

Microsoft officials said Office 365 for users with fewer than 25 employees (which may or may not be is the BPOS Lite offering I wrote about earlier this year) will be available for $6 per user per month. For enterprises and government organizations, (BPOS has been priced at $10 per user per month up until now.) The basic (formerly known as Deskless Worker) offering is $2 per user per month. Office Professional Plus software may be added on a pay-as-you-go basis. For $24 $27 per user per month, users can get Office Professional Plus, the basic Office 365 cloud services.

Those interested in kicking the tires of the limited beta, may sign up on October 19, starting at noon PT at office365.com. That will get you a spot in the beta line, but not the code today (the beta will be expanded gradually).

Other related coverage

Is Microsoft ready to roll out its new BPOS v2 test build?

Live@edu merging with BPOS: Outlook Live v2 on the way?

Microsoft shares (officially) its future BPOS plans

IBM throws its hat into the hosted e-mail ring with Exchange Online competitor

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