Office 365: Microsoft makes pitch for businesses to stop futzing around with servers

Findwell's Kevin Lisota at the Microsoft launch event.

Microsoft today is launching its Office 365 online service, including new online versions of Exchange, SharePoint and other Office products available for a monthly subscription fee. One interesting factoid from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer via the launch event webcast from New York: More than 70 percent of the companies testing the service have been small businesses.

One of those testers will be familiar to people in the Seattle tech community: Kevin Lisota, CEO of the seven-person Seattle online real estate startup Findwell, has been using Office 365 and is on hand this morning at a satellite Microsoft launch event in Redmond. The experience has been good, Lisota said, noting that he’s been able to shed his role as the firm’s part-time IT staff.

“I love the IT stuff, I’m not a typical small business owner, but at the same time, every hour that I spend futzing around with servers is an hour that I spend not generating revenue,” said Lisota, a former Microsoft employee. “My goal was to put the management of the hardware and infrastructure in someone else’s hands.”

During the launch event in New York, Ballmer told the story of one small business owner thinking (half-seriously) about turning the company’s former server room into a jacuzzi room.

Microsoft’s Kurt DelBene, president of the Microsoft Office Division, said during the event in Redmond that the company hasn’t made specific projections for the mix of customers it expects to adopt Office 365.

“Historically we’re very pleased with the support we’ve gotten from our enterprise customers, and so we think there will be a continuation of the transition of those customers to the cloud,” DelBene said. “We believe there will be a lot of demand flowing from those traditional customers. But if this is any indication I think we’ll see a very strong uptake among small and medium businesses, as well.”

Google is making its own pitch to businesses in conjunction with the Office 365 launch, comparing and contrasting its Google Apps in functionality and price. Google said in a blog post: ”You can’t just take legacy, desktop software, move some of it to a data center and call it ‘cloud.’ Apps was born for the web and we’ve been serving hundreds of millions of users for years.”

Office 365 is the successor to Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite. Monthly rates for small businesses are $6 per user per month, with prices at a higher level for larger companies with more needs. Microsoft shares were up this morning on news of the Office 365 launch and other buzz about the company.