Microsoft beefs up its hosted Exchange/SharePoint suite

Microsoft eases admin and tries to woo Mac users with its cloud e-mail/collaboration service.

Microsoft today announced a number of improvements to its hosted Office productivity suite, dubbed the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite. Redmond has added support for PowerShell commandlets, tripled the number of users each account can support (to 30,000) and has improved life for its Mac users.

BPOS was one of Microsoft's first ventures into hosted, cloud computing. It is centered on hosted email, Exchange Online, but it sweetens the deal by also including SharePoint Online, Office Live Meeting, and Office Communications Online. A standard subscription gives each Exchange Online user 5GB of mailbox which can be grown to up to 25GB per mailbox. The suite allows 20 SharePoint sites per site collection, with a max of 50G per site and 1T per company. Licenses start at $15 per user per month.

Today's announcement covers features that are starting to be rolled out now, with all features promised to be online to all regions by the end of October.

Specifically, Microsoft said it is tripling the capacity that each BPOS account can handle from 10,000 seats to 30,000. With that it is adding more management features via PowerShell cmdlets. For instance, one new cmdlet covers bulk activation of users. While Microsoft has long had tools that allows admins to migrate users from an on-prem Active Director forest to its BPOS directory, this had been a painful one-user-at-a-time procedure.  The bulk activiation cmdlet solves this. Another cmdlet sets users passwords.

Interestingly, Microsoft has also gotten over itself a bit on the client side, improving its support of Macs and saying that POP clients will be OK, with a little extra configuration. BPOS was previously only available to folks who were using Outlook 2003 or 2007 as the client.

As for Macs, users will have easier time with configuration, Microsoft promises. It will be releasing in early November an auto-configuration app that will help Office for Mac applications and the Safari browser tie into BPOS with single sign on. BPOS will also add support to Entourage 2008 Exchange Web Services (EWS) so that Mac users can perform global contact lookups, see calendar free/busy data and set out-of-office notifications. Macs are also being given the thumbs up to connect to hosted SharePoint sites with Safari or Firefox.

BPOS is one of a growing number of cloud services that Microsoft offers. On the consumer side, it is trying to woo users with Windows Live, a collection of freebie online apps such as file sharing, file sync, photo sharing, chat, e-mail (Hotmail) and OfficeLive. OfficeLive, a service of Windows Live, also integrates with client-side versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint.

But BPOS should not be confused with these "Live" offerings. Windows Live is Microsoft's answer to Google Apps, Zoho and others of the ilk. BPOS is aimed strictly at businesses wanting hosted e-mail/collaboration and is really geared towards those that already use Exchange. Microsoft hopes that its up-and-coming Exchange 2010 will be a boon to BPOS. Exchange 2010, which is on target to ship November 9, offers a hybrid approach to hosting, allowing users to keep some e-mail on premises and shifting some to the BPOS cloud.

Like this post? Check out these others. Plus, visit the Microsoft Subnet web site for more news, blogs, podcasts. Subscribe to all Microsoft Subnet bloggers. Sign up for the bi-weekly Microsoft newsletter. (Click on News/Microsoft News Alert.) All Microsoft Subnet bloggers on Twitter Julie Bort on Twitter



Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

SD-WAN buyers guide: Key questions to ask vendors (and yourself)