Microsoft to boost Office 365 with Project and Visio cloud services

Microsoft is adding more and more Microsoft-hosted apps to its Office 365 cloud platform. Latest likely additions: Project Online and Visio Online.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft only just launched its Office 365 cloud platform a couple of weeks ago. But the company is readying even more hosted services to add to its core hosted Exchange, SharePoint and Lync Online Office 365 platform.

I blogged recently that the next two services to be added to Office 365 will be Dynamics CRM Online and Windows Intune, Microsoft's PC management and security service. At this week's Worldwide Partner Conference, I heard about two more services Microsoft is planning to add to Office 365: A hosted Microsoft Project service, and a hosted Visio Service.

Microsoft Business Solutions Corporate Vice President Michael Park made a passing reference to the coming Project and Visio Office 365 add-ons during an interview I had with him at the partner conference. The idea in adding services like CRM Online, Project and Visio is to make it as easy for small/mid-size users to subscribe to them with a single click when "ordering" Office 365 as it currently is for enterprise volume licensees to do so.

Update: A Microsoft spokesperson said company officials don't agree with my characterization of what was said at the meeting. They provided the following statement:

"When talking about Dynamics CRM Online, Project,  Visio and Office 365, (Park) was referring to the sales cycle and CRM Online attachment to Office 365 when customers buy that service, the way Project and Visio appeal to customers buying Office [in Volume Licensing] today, not that Project/ Visio will be part of Office 365."

Nonetheless, several partners I spoke with at the Partner Conference maintained that Microsoft's plan is, indeed, to include Project and Visio services in Office 365 down the line.

Several partners said they had heard word of the coming Project add-on, and one said he also had heard talk of a Microsoft-hosted Visio service. The partners said they believed a launch of Project Online and Visio Online would likely be timed to arrive with its Office 15 wave. Office 15 -- the next version of Microsoft's client and server Office wares -- is expected by many to be a late 2012 or early 2013 release. (Microsoft execs have declined to provide a ship-target for Office 15.)

Microsoft Project Server, a project-management product, already is available as a service from a handful of Microsoft hosting partners. Microsoft Visio is a commercial diagramming product. An application known as "Visio Services" that is part of SharePoint Server 2010, already exists. It allows users to share and view Visio drawings, and to update Visio drawings from various data sources. Some partners seem to make Visio Services available as part of partner-hosted SharePoint today.

When I asked the Office 365 team for more information and specifics on the coming Project and Visio hosted services, I was told "Microsoft does not comment on rumors and speculation."

Park and other Microsoft officials reiterated this week that Microsoft is planning to offer a Windows Azure-hosted version of the Dynamics NAV product next year. Microsoft's plan is to make all future versions of its four ERP products available on the public cloud via Azure, starting with NAV.

Microsoft also announced at the show a tool to help partners and customers more rapidly deploy, configure and customize Dynamics ERP offerings, known as Rapid Start for Dynamics ERP. That tool becomes available later this fall, and will be Azure-hosted, also. (Maybe it will hit around the time of the Dynamics AX 2012 virtual launch on September 8?)

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