Microsoft has finally realized that workers are no longer tied down to their cubicles like they were as recently as five years ago. The work environment has changed and Microsoft has finally caught up. Microsoft moved to the cloud with Office 365 in 2011, but it's the 2013 update that has ironed out some old bugs and (at least according to some), really put Microsoft back in the game. It truly enables workers to work the way they want. Stuck at home in a blizzard? No big deal! Feel stuffed up at the office and want to go to the coffee shop? Go ahead! Work now goes with you, not the other way around.

The Office Suite

Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint have run businesses for a while now in the productivity space and have only recently started to get some competition from Google with its Google Docs. The one thing Google had over Microsoft was that it was all in the cloud. Now, Microsoft has provides that advantage, allowing users to save content to the recently renamed OneDrive (previously SkyDrive). You can now work wherever, on whatever device you want at any time. Everything should be seamless and sync perfectly between what you are working on and where it is stored. Microsoft has also built in the capability to do co-authoring, where multiple people can work on a single document. I have tested this method on both Microsoft and Google in the workplace and I can say that it is an amazing piece of functionality that, if used correctly, can change the way you work.

Chat, Video, Voice and Email

Microsoft now has cloud-based chat and email, which enables workers to connect more easily to vendors, partners and colleagues outside of the company walls. There is also integration within Lync to now do video conferencing similar to Skype or Google Hangouts. Straight from within Lync, you can open a chat, call someone, video conference or set up a Web meeting. The integration from Lync is shown in most of the other Microsoft tools to show when people are online and how you can reach them.

SharePoint

SharePoint has been a staple for Microsoft in the corporate world and it is hard to see that changing too dramatically going forward. With SharePoint Online and Office 365 Microsoft has made some huge improvements on what used to be shortcomings. Lync is fully integrated into SharePoint, portal capabilities have been vastly improved, social collaboration is well beyond where it was and search has dramatically improved. The only real reason for a Microsoft shop to now use SharePoint would be if they wanted to solely work toward using OneDrive.

Why Office 365 Will Carry Microsoft

Microsoft has always been known as a corporate juggernaut. In the past, CIOs went with IBM if they didn’t want to get fired because IBM was a sure thing. Over the last decade that has been true of Microsoft. But is it still the case today? I think Microsoft knows that it overplayed its hand. And, while there was a time when everyone and every corporation had to use Microsoft to get work done, that is becoming less true every year. Google still has a relatively small market share, but it is growing. Google is also getting a pretty good handle on the education market and universities. The idea that Microsoft software is all there is is no longer a forgone conclusion. Microsoft can no longer rely on its past.

Microsoft has also had some serious struggles with tablets, phones and recently the Windows 8 operating system. A stable future for Microsoft lies in the present, in selling its bread and butter, which consists of its collaboration tools. The only difference is that now those tools are in the cloud. They also need to move toward the cloud model to ease up on their difficult-to-manage licensing model. While signing up for Office 365 is not a walk in the park, it is clearly no longer the way of the past and they are moving in the right direction.

The other key benefit of getting people on Office 365 for Microsoft is that companies will sign up for the service and pay on a monthly basis. Enterprise agreements will still come into play, but they are no longer the every-three-years negotiation battles between company and vendor that used to take place. Microsoft is making 365 easier for everyone, which also makes it easier for companies to stick with Microsoft.

Is Office 365 perfect? Not at all. But Microsoft has improved its tools dramatically in 365, and has empowered users to work how they want to work while also making it easier to pay for the service. All in all, that's a pretty good deal for everyone.