Office 2013 and Office 365 for Business: Dizzying Choices

Greetings from Copenhagen, from the European SharePoint Conference!! Last week, Microsoft released Office 2013 client applications and two flavors of Office 365 (Home Premium and University). I covered those releases in "Office 365 and Office 2013 Released for Home and Office, Business Waits."

 01-29Office365HomePremiumLaunch_Page
 

This week, I’d like to turn my attention to the business releases, which Steve Ballmer blogged about  and Microsoft announced would occur on February 27. Microsoft is also clarifying product edition names, which have been in flux of late. This week, I’ll do my best to clarify what’s going on with the dizzying array of options.

 

Date for Office 365 Release

Microsoft announced that the business release of Office 365 offerings is slated for February 27. If you had asked me last week, I would have advised you not to be surprised if it slips just a bit, but over the last week, I’ve become more confident that the date will be hit.

Developers working against Office 365 farms (for example, with preview accounts) are already noticing that build numbers reflect the final release. And it’s clear to me that Microsoft is gearing up for the marketing launch at the end of the month.

Some of the confusion over launch dates related to a date of March 1 that was circulating. I’ve heard from customers that email notifications are already being received from Microsoft that explain that existing Office 365 customers will be upgraded over the period of one year, beginning March 1.

My own prediction is that Microsoft is “under-promising” the upgrade roadmap. I expect the upgrades will happen much faster than that.

So those are the dates that are being touted through public channels. As a side note, it disappoints me that it might take up to a year for upgrades to existing accounts. If I were a customer who wanted to roll out new solutions that depended on 2013 features, I’d be pretty upset that my account might stay in 2010 mode into 2014. Welcome to the new world of cloud services! I hope that Microsoft is able to accelerate the speed of upgrades both in this round and in the next. If they’re talking about adding functionality to Office 365 every 90 days, they’d better be able to upgrade in less time than that.

 

Clarifying Office 365 Versions

As far as what offerings will be released, It seems that Microsoft is, in its typical fashion, playing some change-the-name on us.

It took me several hours to try to reconcile what Microsoft announced, what we were told prior to the announcement, and what we’ve been told by the technical and marketing arms of Microsoft product groups, which are not always aligned.

Some of what I learned will be at odds with the reports of some of my esteemed colleagues, partly because there is quite a lot of noise and “grey area” in all of that sometimes-conflicting information. I’ve tried to parse it out correctly below, and I will update anything that changes between now and the end of February.

 

Current Office 365 Version

The current version of Office 365 has 11-13 plans and 13-15 total offerings when you account for government and academic pricing. It’s dizzying. And that’s just in the USA.

The major differences between business plans for medium and large businesses lie in the functionality of Office Web Apps (view only versus edit) and the use of Lync for phone calls. You can get the details by going to four different pages on Microsoft’s site:

I wouldn’t be surprised to see these pages be updated with new version pricing on the date of GA (currently February 27, according to Microsoft’s press release), to maintain the same URLs.

 

New Office 365 Version

As far as I can make out, the new version of Office 365 will center around the following offerings. Here's how they relate to current plans:

Office 365 Small Business. Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync online. Similar to today’s P1, with 2013 features of course. Should be in the $10/month range, but I’ve not seen a definitive announcement of price. SharePoint functionality includes team sites, most content management features (though no Managed Metadata service), social (including Yammer), search, workflow (2013 workflow, not 2010), apps (using Azure provisioned apps) and a brochure public-facing website.

Office 365 Small Business Premium. Add Office On Demand for streamed, locally-installed Office client applications. Announced pricing is $150/year ($12.50/month). So this is today’s P1 plus Office On Demand. As I mentioned last week, Office on Demand is the new brand for the “streaming installation” version of Office 2013.

From the Office 365 portal, you click a button, and Office is installed on your client using App-V technologies that mean you can work within seconds while the applications continue to install in the background. It’s super slick. I believe that Office On Demand for Office 365 business plans will be licensed for 5 devices. That’s the license for the consumer version (Office 365 Home Premium) and was the license for Preview accounts.

Some reports suggest a plan called Office 365 ProPlus, which is only Office On Demand. This plan exists currently, in Preview, but I’m not at all convinced that it will be a reality come general availability. I have not seen any indication of pricing, and the branding seems outdated now that streaming installation is called Office On Demand. I could be wrong about this, however.

Office 365 Midsize Business. This is a new entry into the fray, different than the “E” plans currently targeted at midsized businesses. Pricing will be $180/year ($15/month). As far as I can tell, this plan includes Office On Demand, and it adds to the Small Business Premium account features like Active Directory integration, PowerShell administration, and 24x7 phone support.

From a SharePoint perspective, the plan adds hybrid (Office 365/on-prem) search, records management features, Managed Metadata (for terms and shared content types), 2010 workflow support. Office Web Apps are in view-only mode.

It’s odd to me that—if this feature set is correct—this isn’t branded with the “Premium” name, since it includes Office On Demand. And there doesn’t seem to be a separate Midsize Premium offering. Instead, you would more likely go straight to plan E3.

Some information suggests there will be only one Enterprise plan, branded “Office 365 Enterprise and Government” but I think such reports are the result of “dumbed-down” Microsoft marketing slides, rather than actual plans.

As far as I can reverse-engineer the Microsoft-speak and feature specifications, the E1-E4, G1-G4, and A2-4 plans remain, all under the umbrella brands of Office 365 Enterprise, Government, and Academic. The difference for the government and academic flavors should be price and maybe some (government-mandated) security and SLAs, rather than technical features.

Plans E1/G1 and E2/G2/A2. These plans appear to be identical to Office 365 Midsize Business, except they do not include Office On Demand. E2/G2 provide Office Web Apps edit functionality (E1/G1 is view only). These plans also add support for the full range of SharePoint 2013 app models.

Plans E3/G3/A3 and E4/G4/A4. These plans add the full suite of BI features available in Office 365, plus InfoPath Forms Services, some advanced search functionality, e-Discovery, and Office On Demand. It's not yet clear as to what the major differences will be between E3 and E4, except perhaps the level of support for Lync phone calls (to and from real phones) and Active Directory Rights Management.

E3 is likely to continue to be the most commonly marketed Enterprise plan. In fact it might be that Microsoft will brand this plan only with the “Office 365 Enterprise” name, and use other branding, or just the plan names themselves, for E1, E2 and E4.

One very interesting note that I learned this week is that EA (enterprise agreement) customers are being offered Office 365 add-ons at insanely aggressive pricing—like on the $1 per user level.

Assuming that holds, adding Office 365 as an extension to an existing enterprise SharePoint service becomes almost a no-brainer, which will accelerate the traction of enterprises to at least “put their toes in the water” of Office 365.

At that price, an enterprise can certainly envision certain workloads (extranet workloads, or a public document library of corporate information, for example) being moved to the Office 365 cloud. Very interesting!

Sign Up to Preview--But Choose a Domain Name with Care

There’s still time to sign up for Office 365 previews. But I’d strongly recommend that you not sign up with your production domain name. When new accounts can be acquired on February 27, it will not be possible (or at least not easy) for you to “drop” your preview and sign up right away for a different plan on the release version.

Moving domains between services and plans isn't smooth yet with Office 365. It can be done but it takes time. So if you want to play with Office 365 preview, and you’re planning to sign up for Office 365 on or after February 27, use a temporary domain name for now.

The different plans of Office 365 have subtle but important differences in features, particularly for SharePoint. Be sure to read the blog entries in the community, not just Microsoft’s super-succinct statements about what is and isn’t the same between offerings.

Microsoft has a SharePoint-focused plan feature matrix, but I highly recommend using Andrew Connell's feature matrix, which uses Excel, as a more useable way to pivot the information.

It took me quite a lot of time to parse what I’ve been told by Microsoft as public information, what my peers are reporting, and what I’m hearing from the field. I hope I’ve been able to simplify and clarify the offerings that will be released in February by focusing on their differences, their pricing, and their relationship to the 2010 offerings. I’ll update this article as things change, and as I learn more over the coming days and weeks.

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