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Microsoft Broadens Beta for Office 365

Microsoft has opened up its Office 365 public beta to a bigger crowd worldwide. Since its introduction in October 2010, according to the company, the beta version of the online suite of applications had been tested by 100,000 organizations. This latest beta will allow many more people in 38 countries to try out the Web-based productivity applications in one of 17 different languages.

Office 365 is a subscription service that provides Web access to standard Office applications along with other tools, such as Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Lync Online. The latter program provides presence awareness and "click to communicate" capability through instant messaging, audio, and video calls; it also allows users to share their desktops and a virtual whiteboard for ad hoc meetings.

The advantage of trading in the standard Office offerings for Office 365 is that users will more easily be able to collaborate with each other and access their work from any computer or device that has Web access.

The program has multiple subscription levels defining what products are available--from $2 per month per user for basic e-mail to $27 per user per month for all of the Office Professional Plus desktop software and Web applications.

With a limit of 25 users per account, the latest announcement is targeted at small organizations. Support for this beta is provided through a community site with forums. When Office 365 is released commercially, beta accounts and their data will be moved to "trial" versions. Users can continue using the program only by subscribing to the paid offering.

Schools can gain access to Microsoft's Web offerings via its Office 365 for education program. Benefits of the education edition include 25 GB inboxes for users, the ability to send attachments up to 25 MB, mobile access, team sites, anti-virus and anti-spam, and other features. However, Microsoft warned that its latest beta accounts will not be transferable to Office 365 for education when the beta program ends.

Non-education organizations with more than 25 users and the need to do Active Directory syncing can apply to become part of an Office 365 Beta for enterprises. This program includes 24x7 phone support.

As of April 18, the company was still processing a wait list of about 130,000 people who had signed up for the program in the time between the previous beta announcement and this latest one. According to one commenter on an Office 365 blog who signed up for the beta, the wait time for a new beta account is "approximately [two to four] weeks during the beta period."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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