This year, Microsoft is making a big push into cloud computing with Office 365. Designed to make enterprise-level tools more accessible to smaller companies, the system comes with Lync—a platform that lets users communicate via e-mail, instant message, VoIP phone calls, and videoconferencing—and SharePoint, which lets you create team wikis and websites.
Office 365 also comes with Web and mobile apps for programs such as Word and Excel. Though the online applications are less intuitive than Google Docs, they offer one big advantage: The apps sync with their desktop counterparts and automatically update files in both places. Users can also get anytime access to e-mail, calendars, and contacts via Exchange Online, Office 365's cloud-based e-mail platform.
In theory, Office 365 eliminates the need for racks of servers and an IT staff, given that the platform lives on Microsoft's cloud. But you may need an IT professional to set it up. While testing the beta version, we found it a bit confusing and tedious to download applications, import contacts, and establish an Internet phone connection.
Still, Office 365 might make sense for companies looking to streamline IT infrastructure. The software, set to launch this year, starts at $6 a month per person.