Microsoft will upgrade on Wednesday its existing Office 365 cloud email and collaboration suites for businesses, as well as introduce new bundles, growing even more the list of Office 365 editions, which some analysts and users had already termed somewhat confusing.
The components of the Office 365 suites for businesses, like the web-hosted versions of Exchange, SharePoint and Lync, are getting upgraded to the latest 2013 code base of the products.
In addition, Microsoft is introducing three new configurations of the suite. Office 365 ProPlus, which had been previously announced, includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, InfoPath, Access and Lync. Customers can download it from Microsoft data centers and install it on up to 5 Windows PCs or Macs. It costs $144 per user, per year if bought as a standalone suite.
Meanwhile, Office 365 Small Business Premium, aimed at organizations with 1 to 10 employees, includes Office ProPlus, along with Exchange Online, Lync Online and SharePoint Online. It costs $150 per user, per year.
Finally, Office 365 Midsize Business, designed for organizations with 10 to 250 employees, adds a basic set of IT administration controls, such as Active Directory integration, as well as phone support during business hours. It costs $180 per user, per year.
Kirk Gregersen, general manager in the Office Division, said Microsoft wants to give customers flexibility and a variety of options when deploying Office 365, including the ability to mix and match different editions to cater to different users.
However, other competitors have taken a different tack, including Google, which offers just a few variations of its Apps cloud email and collaboration suite, a strategy that sacrifices variety in favor of simplicity.
Office 365 for business was launched in mid-2011, amidst criticism that Microsoft had taken too long to release a viable competitor for Google Apps, which has been available since 2006.
That first wave of Office 365 suites was based on the 2010 editions of SharePoint, Lync and Exchange. It included Office Web Apps, a browser-based version of Office 2010, and also offered customers the option of adding the full Office 2010 Professional Plus productivity application suite via a subscription model.
Now, Office 365 has been adopted by one in five of Microsoft's enterprise customers, and small and medium business customers have grown 150% in the past year, according to the company. On Wednesday, Microsoft announced three new customers: Hamburg Port Authority, Midroc Europe and Sephora USA.
The new and upgraded Office 365 bundles are available today in 69 markets and 17 languages, and will be available in the second quarter in 20 more markets and 16 more languages.
Microsoft last year decided to also brand as Office 365 the new subscription-based version of the Office suite for consumers, calling it Office 365 Home Premium. A version available via the traditional perpetual-license model is also available under the name Office 2013. These consumer versions of the Office suite became available last month.
Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.