Office 365 for free?

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been taking a good look at Office 365 and what it has to offer.   On the face of it MS’s new toy is pretty compelling, it offered businesses a decent way of moving their basic communications apps – email and messaging – into the cloud whilst still retaining the familiar Office experience for users.  For existing organisations that already have an MS platform it would seem like a decent path to follow.  But what about new or very small businesses?

One of the many good things about Google’s Apps platforms has always been that most of it’s capability is available for free.  It’s buried within the apps pages of the Google site, but if you don’t need more than 10 accounts you can sign up for apps for no cost.  There are some limitations but you do get Gmail, Calendar, Docs and Sites.  You can also set it up to work with your own domain (so no @gmail email addresses) and use those accounts with all the other Google services like Reader or Picasa.

The 10 user account limit used to be 50, so it was a pretty viable solution for small businesses or organisations.  I’m sure this must have worked out ok for Google as some of those organisations expanded and moved to the full Google Business Suite.  I do wonder why MS hasn’t offered a similar deal.

With BPOS and Office 365 arriving quite late to the online office party it does have some ground to make up.  Google has a proven offering, which is almost the default option if you’re starting a small business.  MS does offer a basic 365 product – it’s Plan P – which offers 25 users or less an Exchange mailbox and calendar, Office Web Apps, Lync messaging/conferencing and SharePoint Online for £4/$6 a month.  The basic Google Apps and Plan P are pretty much feature comparable for a small business, but why would you choose to pay $6 a month if you didn’t have to?  (That said… $6 a month for 365 vs $50 a year for Apps is far closer… but that’s another discussion).

If I were MS I’d be tempted to give Plan P away, at least for the same 10 users or less that Google Apps does.  By all means charge £4 a month for 10-50 users but have a free option to gain some market penetration amongst very small businesses and the more technically savvy home users.

Of course the economics of this might not add up, I’ve not idea how much this low end of the platforms offerings contribute to revenues… but I suspect it’s a very small part as Google kinda has that small market wrapped up at the moment.  The only way to change that is ‘free’…

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply