With the newly branded Office 365, announced this week, Microsoft has taken its BPOS (business productivity online suite) service and added Office apps options. But while Microsoft dumped a bad product name for a better one, the company repeated a longtime marketing habit with Office 365: a confusing array of versions and price points.

BPOS today features online versions of Exchange, SharePoint, Lync (formerly Office Communicator) and Video conferencing tool LiveMeeting.

But with Office 365, currently available in beta and set to go live in 2011, Microsoft will roll Live Meeting into Lync Online and add Office Applications, either as web apps or desktop software, depending on the version you choose. When Office 365 launches it will include 2010 versions of Exchange, SharePoint and Lync.

One point worth noting: Microsoft is NOT putting the full client version of Office in the cloud with Office 365. It is offering the Office Professional Plus desktop version, which will run on a PC and not in the cloud, as part of the most expensive enterprise version of Office 365. What's new here is that Microsoft is offering a client version of Office for a monthly fee instead of its usual method of an upfront, full payment.

As with BPOS, users will have the option to purchase the different components of Office 365 (Exchange, SharePoint, Lync) as standalone products. Confused yet? To clarify, here's a summary of all the information you need to know about the features, versions and prices of Office 365.

For SMBs, which equates to companies with 1 to 50 employees and limited IT resources, Microsoft is offering a $6 per user per month version of Office 365. Included in the small business version are:

  • Office Web Apps for viewing, editing and sharing documents.
  • Exchange Online for email, contacts and calendaring with access on PC, Mac, Windows Phone, iPhone, Android and BlackBerry, mailbox is 25GB with antivirus and anti-spam included.
  • SharePoint Online for Microsoft Office Access services, password-protected team sites and a public website.
  • Lync Online for instant messaging, presence, and video and audio conferencing.
  • Guaranteed 99.9 percent service uptime.
  • 24x7 moderated community-based support.

Microsoft recommends that organisations that require Active Directory Federation Services, archiving for legal compliance, BlackBerry service or phone support should consider Office 365 for Enterprises.

Microsoft also offers an enterprise version of Office 365 with different options for the C-level executives who need every tool, information workers who need most of the tools and deskless workers who only need the bare necessities. Enterprises can tailor their Office 365 purchase for different parts of the organisation and only pay for what people need.

For deskless or "kiosk" workers, such as a manufacturing shop floor worker who only needs basic email, Microsoft offers a $2 per user, per month subscription. The plan includes a 500MB mailbox, Office Web Apps, Outlook Web Apps for email access on a PC, the ability to view SharePoint sites and a management console for IT managers to add users.

The higher-end version of Office 365 for the enterprise includes licences for Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online for $10 per user per month. This plan offers the same features as the small business plan with the addition of 24x7, IT level support over the phone, web or email and also single sign-on capabilities with Active Directory deployment.

Finally, the big kahuna version of Office 365 for enterprises costs $24 per user, per month. This includes the full functionality of Exchange, SharePoint and Lync Online, plus the desktop version of Office Professional Plus. Office Professional Plus is not itself hosted in the cloud, it is offered as an addition to the cloud services of Office 365.

Office Pro Plus is currently available to Microsoft volume licensees, but not to those who buy at retail. It includes the full Office product suite: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, SharePoint Workspace, Outlook, Publisher, Access, InfoPath and the Lync communications client. Office Pro Plus is the only client version of Office that Microsoft is allowing Office 365 customers to use.

Microsoft has taken its free student email system, the clunkily named [email protected], integrated it with BPOS and rebranded it as Office 365 for Education. It will be available in 2011 for all eligible high schools and colleges. [email protected] currently includes a variety of free Microsoft services and apps such as Outlook Live, Windows Live Messenger, Windows Live SkyDrive and Office Live Workspace for storing and sharing Office docs.

Microsoft is short on details about how [email protected] will transition to Office 365 for Education, but does state on its website that Outlook Live will become Exchange Online as part of the transition. Ultimately, schools will have services not currently available in [email protected], such as advanced Exchange features, Lync Online, SharePoint Online, archiving, voicemail, and Blackberry support available for purchase with academic discounts, says Microsoft.

Microsoft added that Office 365 for Education will include all the same features and support as the Office 365 Enterprise version delivered in a combination of free and paid services at academic pricing. More details about the transition plan for [email protected] along with the pricing options for Office 365 for Education will come in early in 2011, according to a Microsoft spokesperson.

Find your next job with computerworld UK jobs