Ten more tidbits on Microsoft's new Office 365 cloud play

Need the pricing, licensing and other details about what Microsoft has planned for its just-released Office 365 offering? You've come to the right place.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft launched its rebrand and refresh of its Business Productivity Online (BPOS), Live@Edu and Office Live Small Business services on October 19 and put them all under the "Office 365" umbrella.

Microsoft also launched an early beta of the BPOS v2 services today and promised final delivery and more details in 2011.

A look at Office 365 (screenshots)

Here are a few additional tidbits about the coming new services that I've found around the Web and obtained from various Microsoft representatives:

1. When do the BPOS v2 services -- the new Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online -- go live?

A: Microsoft execs are saying 2011. But a Microsoft fact sheet I saw today said "early 2011." This past  summer, Microsoft execs told partners that the new version of BPOS would be out in the first half of this year. So I'm saying (unless there's a delay) that "first half of 2011" is probably a safe bet -- even though Lync Server 2010 still has not been released to manufacturing and the Lync Online update of that product won't be ready until early 2011, at best.

2. What is Office 365, beyond the new release of BPOS, Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite?

A: Office 365 includes a new SMB version of what's currently called BPOS; an enterprise version of BPOS v2; a new government version of BPOS (which is currently known as BPOS Federal); and a refresh of the student/education-focused Live@Edu offering. All of these are supposed to be out by next year.

3. What are the system requirements for Office 365?

A: Here's a list from Microsoft of all of the client-side prerequisites:

Operating System Requirements: XP SP3, XP Home (no federated identity support, however), Windows Media Center (but no federated identity support), Vista SP2, Windows 7, Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard), 10.6 (Snow Leopard).

Office Client Requirements: Office 2007 SP2 or Office 2010; Office 2008 for Mac & Entourage 2008 Web Services Edition; Office 2011 for Mac and Outlook 2011 for Mac; .NET 2.0 or later; Lync 2010; Communicator for Mac

New Downloads: A service connector application that will replace the Sign in application. The download will be available in the coming months.

Browser Requirements (for Administration Center and My Company Portal): Internet Explorer 7 or above, Firefox 3.x, Safari 4.x

Browser Requirements (for Outlook Web App): Internet Explorer 7 or above; Firefox 3 or higher; Safari 3 or higher on Macintosh OS X 10.5; Chrome 3 and later versions. Note: Outlook Web App also has a light version that supports a reduced set of features across almost any browser

4. What has changed between the current BPOS system requirements and the new system requirements of Office 365?

A: A few things:

* Office 2003 is not supported

* Office Communicator 2007 R2 with Office Communications Online will no longer be supported

* Internet Explorer 6 with the Microsoft Online Administration Center, My Company Portal or Outlook Web App will no longer be supported

5. What's changing on the pricing front?

A: The lowest-priced option is the basic version of Office 365, which is the new name for the Deskless Worker SKU. It includes e-mail and is priced at $2 per user per month.

For SMBs (primarily 1-25 users), Microsoft is offering a $6 per user per month SKU that was codenamed "BPOS Lite." The high-end version of Office 365 is the full enterprise SKU, which includes licenses for Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online for $10 per user per month. Users can add licenses for their users of Office desktop software, on a subscription basis), raising the price to $24 $27 per user per month. Microsoft has said the Office 365 for Education offering will remain free for students, but will include some (still undisclosed) subscription fee for administrators. Microsoft also is not discussing the price for its planned Dynamics CRM Online add-in, which goes live next year.

Here's a pricing/feature chart for what's been announced, plan-wise for Office 365, so far.

As one of my sources explained the new pricing: "Prices stay the same for what you get today (actually lower in SMB/partner space since they have fewer Enterprise class needs) but additive elements allow someone to spend more for more functionality. Much like the transformation when Microsoft transitioned Core CAL users to the Enterprise CAL in the volume licensing arena -- i.e., pay more to get more without formally announcing a price increase - which they don't want to be doing and aren't."

6. Are there any transition tools/strategy for existing BPOS users?

A: Customers can transition in two phases:  the pilot phase and the full transition. A pilot phase will be offered where customers can move some user mailboxes to Office 365 as well as view a read-only copy of their SharePoint site collections with Office 365 enabled.  Once the customer is satisfied with the pilot experience they will complete the full transition at their scheduled transition date.

Here's a link to the Office 365 Transition Center site.

A special note for current Office Live Small Business users: Office Live Small Business is going away. From Microsoft: "The Office Live Small Business service will continue to run as it does today through at least October 2011. As a valued Office Live Small Business customer, you will be offered 3 months free of the Union (the codename for Office 365) service should you choose to transition your account to Office 365. Nothing will change for Office Live Small Business customers now."

7. Can users still purchase the Office 365 component services separately?

A: Stand-alone purchase options for SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Lync Online will still be available and will be updated with the 2010 versions at launch.

8. What about Live Meeting?

A: Live Meeting, the conferencing component of BPOS, goes away as a standalone product with Office 365. That functionality is going to be part of Lync Online.

9. What happens to the current Standard, Dedicated and Federal distinctions that are part of the current BPOS?

A: Customers can still choose to a dedicated infrastructure option with Office 365. There will be an offering that meet the needs of Federal agencies that will be comparable to BPOS Federal today. At launch, Office 365 will be FISMA compliant, and we are working closely with the GSA on this, a Microsoft spokesperson said.

10. Haven't I heard of Office Professional Plus before?

A: Ah, you faithful Microsoft historians! Yes, even though Office Pro Plus is not one of the four Office 2010 SKUs that Microsoft currently offers, there were rumblings about an Office Professional Plus SKU, dating back to June, 2009. Office Pro Plus ended up becoming the subscription-based version of desktop Office that Microsoft will offer to its Office 365 users. This is the same Office Pro Plus SKU available to Microsoft volume licensees only (not retail customers).

Update: One reader asked in the comments below whether users could opt for another version of Office to be included in their Office 365 bundles. The official answer, from a spokesperson, is no. The exact answer:

“We have no plans to offer other Office editions on a pay as you go basis at this time. Office Professional Plus can be purchased standalone or as an add-on to any Office 365 offering for $12 per user per month, which includes Office Web Apps.”

What else do you still want to know about Office 365?

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