Office 365 SMB editions to get a makeover

They'll have new features at lower prices

Microsoft is revamping its Office 365 plans for SBMs. Here's a chart with the features of the new plans

Microsoft is revamping its Office 365 plans for SBMs. Here's a chart with the features of the new plans

Microsoft will revamp its Office 365 lineup for small and midsize businesses (SMBs), adding features, dropping prices and increasing the flexibility to mix and match them with Office 365 plans for enterprises and with stand-alone applications.

The changes are the result of feedback from partners and existing Office 365 customers, and are intended to make the Office 365 application suite more attractive to SMBs and easier to market for channel resellers, Microsoft said on Wednesday.

The new Office 365 plans, which Microsoft will discuss in more detail at next week's Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Washington, D.C., will launch in October and over time replace the current Small Business, Small Business Premium and Midsize Business editions.

The new Office 365 Business Premium is equivalent to the existing Midsize Business, but it costs less: US$12.50 per user/month compared to $15 per user/month. It includes the full suite of Office productivity applications like Word, Excel, PowerPoint one OneNote, as well as the cloud versions of the Office servers, including Exchange Online, Lync Online and SharePoint Online.

Office 365 Business Premium also comes with 1TB of OneDrive for Business storage per user, Active Directory integration and Yammer Enterprise. It can be deployed to up to 300 users within a company.

At $12.50 per user/month, Office 365 Business Premium will not only be cheaper than Office 365 Midsize Business, but it will also cost the same as Office 365 Small Business Premium, while offering more features like Active Directory integration and a higher user cap -- 300 versus 25. Thus, Office 365 Business Premium will become a replacement for both Midsize Business and Small Business Premium.

Meanwhile, the new Office 365 Business Essentials will replace Office 365 Small Business. The new plan will cost the same -- $5 per user/month -- but it again lifts the maximum user ceiling from 25 to 300, and comes with additional features like the Active Directory integration. Like the plan it's replacing, Office 365 Business Essentials comes with the server products -- Exchange Online, Lync Online and SharePoint Online -- but not with the full-featured Office productivity applications, like Word and Excel.

For customers who want only the suite of Office productivity applications and not the cloud servers, Microsoft is introducing a new plan called Office 365 Business that will offer a less expensive option to the existing Office 365 ProPlus.

Office 365 Business will cost $8.25 per user/month and will come with Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Publisher, but not with Access and Lync, which are included with Office 365 ProPlus, which costs $12 per user/month.

Another difference is that Office 365 Business is capped at 300 users, while Office 365 ProPlus can be rolled out to an unlimited number of users.

Both include 1TB of OneDrive for Business cloud storage per user, the Office Online lightweight and Web-based version of Office and what Microsoft describes as "core" Excel BI (business intelligence) features.

However, unlike Office 365 Business, Office ProPlus has advanced Excel BI features, as well as several email compliance, archiving and retention capabilities, and a set of IT controls.

Microsoft is also adding flexibility for customers that want to have some users on the SMB plans and some on the Enterprise plans.

Currently, Office 365 Small Business can be combined with Office 365 Small Business Premium, but not with Office 365 Midsize Business, the Office 365 Enterprise plans, or the stand-alone products, like Exchange Online. Office 365 Midsize Business can't be combined with any other plan.

However, those rigid boundaries are coming down, so a company will be able to have different users on different plans, and even add products like Visio, Project and Dynamics CRM Online to some seats.

The three new plans will launch on October 1 of this year, but Microsoft is recommending that existing customers wait to switch until their next renewal date after October 1, 2015.

In the meantime, Microsoft will raise the user cap from 25 to 300 for Small Business and Small Business Premium customers, and lower the price of the Midsize Business plan from $15 per user/month to $12.50 per user/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.

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