The latest incarnation of Microsoft's Office 365 for Business offering is now on general release, and consists of several new product bundles aimed at SMBs, mid-market and enterprise users.
These product bundles all feature the 2013 versions of the software giant's Exchange, Sharepoint and Lync online products, while the look and feel of the new overall suite is in keeping with that of Windows 8.
Microsoft has also launched something called Office 365 ProPlus, which will allow users to supplement their existing cloud deployments with online versions of its Office 2013 applications.
The software giant also plans to expand the enterprise social capabilities of its online productivity suite, by rolling out voice, presence and instant messaging features that draw on the company's Lync and Skype products by June of this year.
IT Pro also understands that cloud-based versions of Microsoft's business task management software Project and its diagram creation tool Visio have also been added to the role-call of Office 365 offerings for the first time.
During a webcast announcing Office 365 for Business, Kurt DelBene, president of the Office division at Microsoft, said the product was designed to work best with Windows 8 and take advantage of touch-based devices.
"But none of this matter if IT can't manage it, so we've added new compliance, flexibility and management [capabilities]," he added.
The release marks the first time the Office desktop application has been offered up as a commercial cloud service, he added.
However, this does not mean Microsoft is planning to stop offering users the option to deploy it on-premise.
"With this announcement, [we've created] the most ambitious release of Office ever...We know cloud will be a journey, and we will continue to release on premise products."
Julia White, general manager for Office division technical marketing at Microsoft, went on to walk through the technical capabilities of the release, emphasising that users can pick up where they left off when switching devices to access the same documents.
"My content is always up to date because its saved to the cloud," she added.
Business talkMicrosoft claims one in five of its enterprise customers now use Office 365, while SMB and mid-market adoption has grown by 150 per cent over the past 12 months.
Mark Herbert, business development manager at Office 365 Syndication Partner Inty, said existing Office 365 users should be automatically upgraded to the latest edition within the next three months.
"Users can put off the upgrade by up to 60 days, but everyone will be upgraded whether they like it or not," he told IT Pro.
"It's a very well engineered process, so people shouldn't even know it is happening."
Meanwhile, Clive Longbottom, service director at market watcher Quocirca, said the new release has much to recommend it, and should push more business users to consider cloud.
"Microsoft seems to have got it right, overall. There will be issues, as the interface is not the same, so there may be a need to re-train users," he told IT Pro.
"Office 365 for the enterprise gives far more [in terms of functionality] and will remove the need for users to carry out patches and upgrades [like they would with on-premise]."
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