After much hype and some mixed reviews, Microsoft has finally launched Office 365 and, on behalf of everyone here at Huddle, I’m pleased to finally say: “welcome to the cloud Microsoft!”.

Huddle, like other companies that offer applications built for the cloud, has long preached the benefits that the cloud has to offer businesses and their workers:

  • Access to required information from any location, on any device, at any time of day
  • Software versions that are always up-to-date, with no download or installation required
  • Increased flexibility and agility
  • Lower initial costs

Although Office is finally available online, it’s essentially still Office and the move to the cloud comes rather late in the day. Microsoft has thrown in Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online, but Office 365 looks the same and will feel the same for users. While this may initially seem like a great prospect for organizations – breathing a sigh of relief that a large packet of cash and an excessive amount of time doesn’t need to be invested in retraining – the same old problems with the likes of SharePoint will remain. According to a report by Global 360 (http://bit.ly/g59gYo), 83 per cent of SharePoint users prefer to use email over SharePoint for collaboration on documents. With an identical interface, this looks like a problem that will remain with Office 365.

The cloud applications that are proving successful in businesses today are those that take the simplicity and ease of use associated with social tools, such as Facebook and Twitter, and place them in the business environment. Users want applications that help them to get a job done rather than make it more difficult. Often, they turn to cloud-based tools to avoid the clunky software that is currently available to them.

This moves me nicely onto my next point: Office wasn’t built from the ground-up as a cloud application. Like its predecessor BPOS, Microsoft’s latest offering has shoehorned traditional, legacy applications into the cloud. With its roots firmly in traditional on-premise ICT, Office 365 is neither intuitive nor innovative. There are no open APIs to enable integration into people’s other business applications or encourage people to build new tools that make their working lives that little bit easier. We’d love to offer our users online Word, Excel and PowerPoint as an alternative to our standard editors but due to Microsoft’s restrictive licensing and technology this doesn’t look likely for the foreseeable future.

While analyst house IDC predicts that more than a third (35 per cent) of the world’s workforce will be mobile by 2010, Office 365’s cross-platform functionality is still lacking. Without native apps for popular devices such as the iPhone, iPad and BlackBerry, Office 365’s use to the majority of phone owners on the move will be limited.

Only time will tell whether Microsoft’s leap to the cloud is a success, until then we’ll be watching the skies.


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