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Office 365 Fortifies Cloud Connection

Microsoft announced new consumer, student and small business editions, and is fortifying its connection through newer cloud connections.

Microsoft announced new consumer, student and small business editions of its next-generation Office 365. The company also announced that the suite is getting deeper cloud connections in higher end versions.

First, consumers can now get their hands on Office 365 Home Premium if signing up as new customers, while students now have access to the latest Office 365 University edition. Those announcements are mostly news for new customers looking to purchase Microsoft's subscription-based Office 365 products. Existing Office 365 customers already have access to the latest software releases, according to Chris Schneider, senior PR manager for the Microsoft Office Division, in a phone interview.

The new Office 365 products feature Microsoft's revamped Windows Store apps-like user interface, which is tile based and optimized for use with a touch screen, stylus, or keyboard and mouse combination. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer offered a preview of the new Office user interface back in July. This release is also notable for Microsoft's debut of subscription-based Office 365 licensing for consumers, a plan that Microsoft first unveiled in September.

Office 365 Home Premium is offered on a monthly subscription basis, based on a year's commitment at $99.99 per year. It's now available in 162 markets and 21 languages. Consumers can purchase a subscription to the new Office 365 Home Premium through retail outlets such as Amazon.com, Best Buy, Challenger, Dixon, FNAC, Microsoft Store, Office.com or Staples or they can get it by purchasing a PC from an original equipment vendor. The productivity suite can also be tried at no cost for 30 days via Office.com.

Office 365 University for students, faculty and staff costs $79.99 for a four-year subscription and is available today in 52 markets. Microsoft also announced the availability of Office Home and Student 2013, which is Microsoft's productivity suite for x86-based machines that's sold with a traditional "perpetual license" at $139.99.

Business entities wanting to use the new Office will have to wait a little bit longer, although some products were available to Microsoft's volume licensees in December. Schneider indicated that Microsoft plans to release more new Office 2013 products for businesses on February 27. Meanwhile, small businesses can get their hands on some of the new Office suites today, which are priced as follows:

  • Office 365 Small Business Premium at $149.99 per user per year (subscription license)
  • Office Home and Business 2013 at $219.99 (perpetual license)
  • Office Professional 2013 at $399.99 (perpetual license).

Office 365 Small Business Premium includes the same applications as Office 365 Home Premium. In addition, it adds features such as Microsoft Lync and InfoPath, videoconferencing, Web site creation and online document sharing, as well as shared calendars, e-mail mailboxes of 25 GB and cloud storage of 10 GB plus 500 MB of cloud storage per user.

Office 365 Home Premium Features
Office 365 Home Premium comes with Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint, Word, Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Publisher and Access. The product is licensed per "household," with installation permitted on up to five PCs or Macs. However, the per-household license doesn't mean that all of the users have to reside in the same building.

"The main account holder (whoever uses their ID to set up the subscription) can choose where the five installs go, as that is part of his/her My Account page," a Microsoft spokesperson explained via e-mail.

Office for Mac 2011 is also part of the subscription, but it's not updated for this release. Subscribers will get access to the next Office for Mac edition when it becomes available as part of the service. And that's true for all of the Office 365-branded applications. Users get the latest product releases and Microsoft is promising more frequent releases in the near future.

"We will be releasing [Office 365] updates at a much more regular basis," Schneider said. "Much more frequently -- multiple times per year."

Currently, Office for Mac 2011 lacks Access, OneNote and Publisher. It's a somewhat different suite compared with its Windows-based cousin.

Other perks in Office 365 Home Premium are cloud based and rely on services that Microsoft has built. For instance, Users of Office 365 Home Premium gain access to 20 GB of extra cloud-based storage through Microsoft's SkyDrive service. By default, documents are saved on Microsoft's servers, which allows anywhere access to the files through SkyDrive, although users can also save their documents to their local hard drive. Microsoft offers 7 GB of SkyDrive storage for free, so subscribers get 20 GB on top of that amount. For those reminiscing about the time when Microsoft once offered 25 GB of SkyDrive storage for free, that's still part of the deal if you signed up for it.

"If you are grandfathered in and have 25 GB of data [on SkyDrive] you will still receive the additional 20 GB with the Office 365 Home Premium Subscription," a Microsoft spokesperson explained via e-mail.

Additional SkyDrive storage is priced in increments, up to a maximum of 100 GB, which costs $50 per year.

Microsoft is also throwing in monthly Skype voice-over-IP calling minutes as part of its Office 365 Home Premium subscription. Users get 60 minutes of free calling worldwide each month, and they can call landline phones, mobile phones or PCs using the service. Per Microsoft's fine print, "special, premium and nongeographic numbers" are excluded, and calls to mobile devices only apply for "select countries."

Another benefit for Office 365 Home Premium subscribers is access to Office on Demand, which allows users to run Office on other devices anywhere, even if it's not their own device. The main requirement for Office on Demand is having Internet connectivity. Office on Demand will stream the bits of the applications to the device for temporary use. After the session ends, most of the installed bits get wiped from the device.

The requirements to use Office 365 Home Premium on a local machine are either Windows 7 (32-bit or 64-bit), Windows Server 2008 R2 or higher or Mac OS X 10.5.8 or higher. Office Mobile is supported on Windows Phone 7.5 or higher. Those running Windows XP or Vista are out of luck as Office 365 Home Premium isn't supported on those operating systems.

Microsoft's Subscription-Based Push
Despite the association with Microsoft's cloud-based Office 365 line of products, Office 365 Home Premium must be installed by the user on their premises. For the most part, the applications are not run via a streaming connection with Microsoft's servers and there are no remote use rights. The cloud aspects of the product have to do with how the account in maintained, rather than with the use of the productivity suite.

Schneider said that consumers are already comfortable with the subscription-based model of software licensing, but it's still "a major shift" for Microsoft to sell Office in that way. Consumers are more familiar with the traditional perpetual-license route, in which they buy a boxed copy of Office, or download it, and have the rights to use it forever.

Consumers will manage their monthly Office 365 Home Premium subscriptions through Office.com. It also serves as a portal where users can register, add family members to their subscription, add PCs, Macs or tablets to the subscription, install Office 365 updates and access the new Office store. The Office store is another portal offering Microsoft applications and third-party software applications that work with Office. Users gain access to their subscription through a Microsoft Account, which is Microsoft's revamp of the Windows Live ID account sign-on.

Unlike Microsoft's traditional perpetual-license Office products, where software use rights don't ever expire, Office 365 products are sold on a monthly recurring basis as a subscription. That means that if a user ends or stops paying for the subscription, then that person loses the ability to create or edit documents with the software. Instead, those with expired subscriptions have "read-only reduced functional mode" access to the documents that they have created, along with the ability to print those documents. They can't edit them except with another copy of Office or via Microsoft's free Office Web Apps, which are limited-feature Office-like applications that run in a Web browser.

Microsoft currently has Office Web Apps in existence for Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint and Word. So, presumably, if a user created Access database files with Office 365 Home Premium, but later cancelled the subscription, then that person would just have read-only access to their Access files. If they really wanted to edit those files, then they would have to purchase another copy of Office that contains Access, or resubscribe to Office 365 via Office.com, in order to be able to edit the files.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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