Microsoft launches free trials of cloud business suite

At the CeBIT computer fair in Hannover, Germany, Microsoft unveiled its first commercial version of its Business Productivity Online Suite, which includes Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Office Live Meeting, and Office Communications Online. For its part, the Deskless Worker Suite incorporates Exchange Online Deskless Worker and SharePoint Online Deskless Worker.

These two suites are part of Microsoft Online Services, a managed service Microsoft is offering in a standard edition for businesses of all sizes, plus a "dedicated" edition providing customizability for organizations with 5,000 users or more.

The company also revealed plans for future release of the Online Deskless Worker Suite, a new hosted service for "occasional users," and Office Communications Online, for instant messaging and presence management.

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Microsoft's new SaaS (software-as-a-service) offerings are "very different from the software-in-a-cloud-only approach," because access can be easily set up for a choice of PCs, mobile phones, and other devices, contended Stephen Elop, president of the Microsoft Business Division.

GlaxoSmithKline, one of the world's leading pharmaceutical firms, will be deploying the Business Office Suite and Online Deskless Worker Suite in an implementation involving some 100,000 workers.

Bill Louv, CIO of GlaxoSmithKline, said that while his IT organization also foresees benefits such as better collaboration with partners, the group first had to perform a financial analysis before gaining corporate approval to move to Microsoft's suite. Results showed that the pharmaceutical firm will cut operational costs by 30 percent.

Use of the Business Productivity Suite in conjunction with the Deskless Office Suite will allow "occasional users" such as salespeople in international locations to access applications from Web kiosks, according to the CIO.

Although Louv's team experienced some resistance to migrating to Microsoft's new platform from IBM's Lotus Notes, the issues boiled down mainly to concerns that the migration would disrupt the company's research and development efforts, he said.

"Most of the fears have kind of melted way," according to Louv. In addition, many of the company's workers are more familiar with the interface to Microsoft's tools than to that of Lotus Notes, he elaborated.

Exchange Online and SharePoint Online are available immediately for both free trial downloads and purchase. Office Live Meeting Online, Office Communications Online, and the Deskless Office Suite are slated to become available for free trial downloads and purchase in April.

Microsoft is today rolling out the new cloud-based services to the following 19 countries: the US; UK; Canada; Austria; Belgium; Denmark; Finland; France; Germany; Ireland; Italy; Japan; the Netherlands; New Zealand; Norway; Portugal; Spain; Sweden; and Switzerland.

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