It’s been a few months since Microsoft allowed a limited number of people onto the first beta of its next-generation online business productivity platform. An extension of (as well as an update to) Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS), Office 365 is best thought of a cloud-hosted set of Office servers, providing the full, end-to-end, set of Office tools without burdening the IT department with in-house implementations of Exchange, SharePoint or Lync.
Our initial Office 365 preview looked at the small business version of the service. With the public beta we’re now using the Enterprise version, on plan E3 (£15.75 per user per month). Like the small business version, the enterprise Office 365 offers multi-tenanted versions of the Office family servers — Exchange 2010, SharePoint 2010 and Lync 2010. There’s no need to install software or configure server hardware: everything is ready for you to use, with a relatively simple control panel to handle configuration and customisation. Microsoft is promising reliability too, with a 99.9 percent uptime service level agreement, backed up with financial guarantees.
Both enterprise and small-business users get similar views of the service when they log in for the first time. There are shortcuts to key services, like Outlook Web Access for email and calendar, as well as links to the main SharePoint site and to download the Lync client. There’s one difference: Enterprise users don’t get the shortcuts to the Office Web Apps that small-business and kiosk users see.
Log on as a user, and you’ll see a basic start page that gives quick access to web mail and SharePoint team sites, as well as download links for applications. You’ll also find help in setting up a desktop PC to work with the Office 365 service
Microsoft doesn’t expect users to use this page all the time: instead, it’s suggesting they’ll be more likely to work with Office 365 from their familiar desktop tools, including Outlook. If you’re using a subscription with access to Office 2010, you’ll find that Office 365 services integrate well with the desktop tools, giving you access to collaboration features and, in the case of Outlook 2010, Lync-based tools that let you create and manage online meetings without leaving your calendar.
If you’re using Lync, at this point it’s perhaps best restricted to internal communi