Microsoft's Office 365 is now officially available following yesterday's launch event, offering subscription-based access to business tools such as Exchange email, SharePoint collaboration, Lync messaging and communications, and the browser-based Office Web Apps.
First impressions of Office 365 are that Microsoft is delivering the right mix of functionality to appeal to small businesses, in particular, although questions remain over security and the safety of information in Microsoft's datacentre.
Office 365 allows users to get up and running quickly with a portal providing access to email, the Office Web Apps, a team SharePoint site, and a customisable company web page.
All of these are directly accessible from the browser, but Microsoft's Lync client for instant messaging and telephony needs to be downloaded and installed on the user's PC.
Email is delivered through a browser-based interface that will be familiar to users of Outlook, and it is possible that many small businesses will consider this feature alone worth the £4 per user per month that Office 365 costs.
However, the Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote Office Web Apps have relatively basic functionality compared to their desktop counterparts, and should perhaps be regarded as viewers for documents stored in the SharePoint portal rather than an alternative for purchasing a suite such as Office 2010.
Lync offers the ability to make PC-to-PC audio and video calls as well as instant messaging, which should prove useful when workers are at home or at different sites.
For small businesses in particular, Office 365 is pretty straightforward to get up and running. One person acting as administrator can fairly easily provision each user with just a few details and the push of a button, with minimal IT expertise required.
A full review of Office 365 will published on V3.co.uk soon.