Microsoft Expands Office 365, SkyDrive Cloud Offerings

Wednesday Nov 30th 2011 by Thor Olavsrud
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The software juggernaut says its cloud-based productivity service is on pace for record growth and small business is driving it.

Microsoft's Office 365 cloud productivity service may soon become one of the company's fastest-growing offerings ever, according to Kurt DelBene, president of the Office Division at Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). Additionally, small business (fewer than 50 employees) is driving much of that growth.

"We are seeing really positive momentum for Office 365," DelBene said. "Customers are adopting Office 365 eight times faster than our previous service, and the solution is on track to become one of our fastest-growing offers in Microsoft history. We are also seeing great traction with small businesses, with more than 90 percent of our early Office 365 customers coming from small businesses."

On Wednesday, the company aimed to accelerate that growth by opening the service for trial in 22 additional markets, including Argentina, Iceland, Indonesia, South Africa and Taiwan. The company also recently launched full commerce capabilities in Brazil, Russia and South Korea.

"Whether you are a customer doing business from the Arctic Circle, the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn, you now have the capability to use Office 365 to power your business from the cloud," said Andrew Kisslo, group product manager for Office 365.

Small businesses aren't alone. Big brands are also turning to the cloud for productivity services. Kisslo said 41 of the top 100 global brands, based on the Interbrand list, use Office 365 or related cloud-productivity services from Microsoft. Kisslo pointed to both Campbell Soup Company and Groupe Marie-Claire (publisher of the Marie-Claire fashion magazine) as adopters.

"Office 365 is key to our plans to propel our employees to next-generation innovation in productivity technologies at a very rapid pace," said Joe Spagnoletti, senior vice president and chief information officer at Campbell Soup Company. "We're betting on the cloud -- and Office 365 -- as we prepare to build a highly collaborative workplace where employees across our global offices can all work together and communicate in a seamless fashion."

The Office 365 service combines Microsoft Office, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Lync Online into a cloud-based service with a monthly subscription. To bolster Office 365's continued adoption, Microsoft announced more than 30 new updates to the service Wednesday. It also added enhancements to its SkyDrive personal cloud storage service. Kisslo said many of the Office 365 updates were based on direct consumer feedback. A few of the key new features include:

  • Support for SharePoint Business Connectivity Services. This feature gives businesses the capability to connect critical line-of-business applications like CRM or SAP software via a familiar SharePoint interface.
  • Self-Serve Password Reset. This tool makes it easier for IT administrators to access security resets.
  • Lync for Mac. This tool extends additional features to Mac users, including the full Lync client for instant messaging chats and presence information in Office applications. It also gives users the capability to host voice and videoconferences like their PC-based counterparts.
  • Office Web App Preview in Outlook Web Access (OWA). This gives users the ability to display Office document attachments in OWA.
  • Windows Phone 7.5 Support. This feature gives end users the capability to access and update documents in SharePoint Online using their Windows Phone.

Microsoft also rebuilt SkyDrive to make it simpler and more app-centric.

"As we look to the future, we know people increasingly think and work in a way that is "app-centric," that is, they want something that just works from whatever application they are already using," said Omar Shahine, group program manager of SkyDrive.com. "So for example, when collaborating on a Word document, they want to be able to share it in as few steps as possible -- ideally without having to leave Word in order to set permissions or move it around to different folders. And they definitely don't want to have to think about their folder structure or which email service their friends happen to use."

As a result, he said, Microsoft rebuilt the fundamental pieces of SkyDrive to simplify sharing. Users can share any Office document with a single click and collaborate with any contact (no matter their email service or the connected networks they use, like Facebook or LinkedIn). Microsoft also added tools for managing and organizing files, including the capability to drag-and-drop multiple files to upload across browsers on PC and Mac.

Thor Olavsrud is a contributor to InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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