Thoughts on Microsoft Live 365 & The Move to the Cloud

Last Thursday I was invited to attend a preview of Microsoft Office 365 – Microsoft’s new cloud offering for collaboration.

First thing’s was held at the new Microsoft Innovation Center at 9th/K in DC – building is amazing. And it seems they eat their own dogfood – the whole building operates on MS cloud offerings.

The presentation was pretty cool in that it was all done by presenters on 103″ touch screens.

At a simplest sense, it’s bringing their current on-premise offerings that most govies use every day (Outlook, Office, Sharepoint) into the cloud.

At another sense, it’s Microsoft’s Google Apps competitor.

Lots of agencies are moving to the cloud for communication and I think it makes a lot of sense -for items like email, instant messaging, collaboration – we are used to doing these activities in our personal lives in the cloud and there are lot of obvious benefits – lots more storage, integration, and easy to use from any location.

Over the course of 90 minutes, we got a pretty thorough overview of Microsoft 365. It’s pretty impressive that almost all of the functionality you normally receive from these products when hosted yourself are now available in the cloud offering. Additionally, there was a big focus on creating the same user experience across all platforms – desktop to mobile to tablet. Same experience whether on PC, ipad, iphone, droid.

Besides the core functionality, I thought there were a number of cool features:

Video chats – They have a product Lync (not Skype integration yet but I bet it’s coming) so colleagues can have quick video chats with colleagues. It’s even able to do multiple video chats like Google + hangouts. To me, that’s an awesome feature I always wanted in government and cool to see integrated in Office platform.

Seemless integration – A lot of the best functionality is really subtle integration. For example, instead of reply all to an email, you can hit reply all as a instant message chat. That’s pretty cool and I could see myself using that. Also throughout the platform, everything is integrated – your instant message status when you are responding to an email or checking out a document on Sharepoint. Another cool functionality is you can see on an email who a person reports to or who they manage which is immensely helpful.

-Cool small features – lots of cool small features like you can poll folks via email or in a chat functionality. The other one I really like is below in the picture. Say you have a Powerpoint presentation – you can send the web link to the presentation (since on the cloud) to a participant not there who can then watch as you change slides and present. This works even with mobile – I’m watching the slides move on my iphone below.

All in all – MS Office 365 is a solid offering. In the university market, almost all universities have gone to cloud for communication (email/collaboration/etc) in the last few years.

I see the same in government space (fed/state/local) and the offering from Microsoft and Google (the main two competitors) continue to get better and make the move more and more a no-brainer.

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