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Microsoft's Office 365 turns five

Microsoft launched its Office 365 productivity service five years ago, on June 28, 2011. A lot has changed -- and continues to change -- since that day.

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Image: ZDNet

Microsoft's Office 365 for business cloud service is five years old.

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Microsoft launched Office 365 on June 28, 2011. At that time, Office 365, originally codenamed "Union", was a bundle of Microsoft-hosted versions of Exchange, Lync, and SharePoint, plus a subscription version of Office 2010 Professional Plus that ran locally.

Office 365 was the successor to Microsoft's Business Productivity Suite (BPOS) bundle. (It also replaced Office Live Small Business and Live@edu.) It wasn't exactly "Office in the cloud", but Office 365 was designed to compete with Google's cloud productivity offerings.

Microsoft has made a lot of changes to Office 365 in the ensuing five years. It morphed Lync into Skype for Business. It added new services, like its Delve search/presentation portal, Office 365 video portal, and its Planner team-planning service. And it has introduced a consumer complement to Office 365 for business, Office 365 Consumer (now with Home and Personal options).

Interestingly, although Microsoft officials said in 2011 the company's goal was to move Office 365 to run on Azure, that still hasn't happened. Supposedly, it's still the goal, though.

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As of a month ago, Microsoft claimed more than 70 million users of its Office 365 for business service, and 22 million of its Office 365 consumer one.

Microsoft partner and cloud security vendor Skyhigh Networks, in an analysis of 27 million employees, estimated that 20 percent of corporate employees use at least one Office 365 cloud service, up from less than 7 percent nine months ago. OneDrive for Business had the highest penetration rate in Skyhigh's survey, as well as the highest usage rate (which was only 18.6 percent.) Exchange Online is the second most used Office 365 service, Skyhigh officials said.

From the get-go, one of Microsoft's goals with Office 365 was to get new features into users' hands more quickly. Back in 2011, that meant quarterly. These days, new features roll out monthly, with many, but not all, listed ahead of time on Microsoft's roadmap for Office 365 site.

Today, Office 365 is key to Microsoft's freemium business model, as it's the way that Microsoft makes money from products like Office for iOS and Android. And the Office Graph -- the set of APIs to which Microsoft is encouraging developers to write Office add-ins and applications -- is the "brain" of the Microsoft Graph, and another core piece of Microsoft's evolving Office 365 platform.