Microsoft Officially Unveils Office 365 Worldwide

While Google was busy introducing their Google+ Project for social networking mavens, Microsoft has been busy putting the final touches on a cloud-based software suite that has been in the works for what feels like an eternity. Office 365 was formally unveiled by Steve Ballmer this week, with a global launch bringing collaboration tools and other productivity programs to a wide array of businesses. Microsoft's not beating around the bush: this is a cloud service, and it's being made available in 40 markets.

The service brings together Microsoft Office, Microsoft SharePoint Online, Microsoft Exchange Online and Microsoft Lync Online in an always-up-to-date cloud service, at a predictable monthly subscription. You may recall the beta opening up last year, with over 200,000 companies signing up to test drive things. Today, more than 20 service providers around the globe also shared plans to bring Office 365 to their customers this year. Bell Canada, Intuit Inc., NTT Communications Corp., Telefonica S.A., Telstra Corp. and Vodafone Group Plc, among others, will package and sell Office 365 with their own services for small and midsize businesses. With Office 365, people can stay on the "same page" using instant messaging and virtual meetings with people who are just down the hall or across the world. They can work on files and documents at the same time and share ideas as easily as they can share calendars. Office 365 gives people new ways to work together with ease, on virtually any device.

Of course, Microsoft Office applications are at the heart of Office 365. Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote, Outlook and other Office applications connect to Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint and Lync to deliver a world-class solution for communication and collaboration. It's hard to say if Microsoft has a hit here; Google Docs have been online for a long time now, and their Wave collaboration tool never did gain much traction. Still, those interested in giving it a whirl can do so today, and judging by the way companies are latching onto the Internet, we'd say 'cloud' is definitely in your future -- like it or not.