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Microsoft launches Office 365, glosses over cloud limitations

Microsoft Office 365 exits beta, available worldwide

By , Network World
June 28, 2011 12:12 PM ET

Network World - Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer pitched his answer to Google Apps Tuesday as Microsoft announced worldwide availability of Office 365, but made no mention of the company’s biggest cloud rival or any of the limitations in cloud computing generally or Microsoft products specifically.

Office 365 will likely attract a big audience, since a huge number of businesses use Microsoft products already. But the Office 365 beta, which is now over, engendered some customer complaints, and Microsoft has deliberately held some functionality back from its cloud service to avoid cannibalizing software license sales.

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Some beta testers complained about limitations in importing contacts for shared global address lists, and the requirement to use the complicated PowerShell to perform tasks they felt should be simple.

At a fancy event in New York City, Ballmer spoke to media, analysts and customers, revealing little that wasn’t known already but providing a look at potential use cases for Office 365. The cloud service wraps together many pieces of software: Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, and of course, Office, in both on-premises and Web-based versions.

While few would argue that the rival Google Apps offers more functionality than on-premises Microsoft Office software, Microsoft’s online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote are limited compared to Microsoft’s packaged tools and perhaps even compared to Google’s cloud offering.

Office Web Apps does a better job importing Microsoft Office documents than Google Docs does, but it lacks the auto-save functionality of Google Docs. Additionally, the ability to let multiple users edit documents simultaneously, provided in the browser by Google, is not offered with Microsoft’s Web-based versions of Word and PowerPoint. The rich clients of Word and PowerPoint are required for co-editing, even though Microsoft does provide browser-based co-editing in Excel and OneNote.

“Office Web Apps is purposely lightweight and is designed so that it will not cannibalize Office Pro revenue,” Gartner analyst Matt Cain says in an email interview. “If Google makes further inroads, Microsoft will clearly beef up Office Web Apps to be more competitive with [Google] Apps. The last thing that Microsoft wants to see is a diminishment in the Office franchise, and Office Web Apps is the instrument Microsoft can tune to combat Google Apps.”

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