I attended the Office 365 launch today in New York. There were no surprises--I guess I was vaguely hoping for a last-minute surprise along the lines of a stripped down, free version of Office 365 that would answer the "what about the free version of Google Apps" question once and for all--but this is obviously a huge milestone, and one that will indeed put Google Apps in the rear view mirror for good. In fact, depending on how you measure things--overall number of users, paid users--that may have already happened. So much for the "late to the cloud" storyline.

I'm going to review Office 365 soon, but let's just cut to the chase and admit it's really, really good. So good, in fact, that I'll be moving off of Gmail this year and using Office 365 instead. (There are some unresolved questions around how/if I'll split home and work email services and so on, but that's sort of a side issue. For now, you can (or can soon) watch the Office 365 launch web cast, read the press release, or check out my news article from this morning, which links to the various Office 365 pricing schemes for individuals and small businesses, and for mid-sized businesses and enterprises.

With regards to today's press conference, there wasn't anything truly new, but there were a few interesting bits that I think bear mentioning:

Office 365 partners. While Microsoft will offer Office 365 directly to customers in many places, it is also "packaging" Office 365 so that partners can offer the service--often bundled with other services--directly to customers in various markets. You can find a list of Office 365 partners on the Microsoft web site (inconveniently in Word format), but scanning the list, you'll see a lot of big, trusted telco companies. In many cases, these companies will help customers adopt Office 365 in places where it would otherwise not be possible because of regulatory reasons (like Germany) or where Microsoft simply doesn't offer the service directly.

$6 per user per month is the minimum for individuals. (Enterprise customers have access to plans that range all the way down to $2 per user per month, but those plans are for email-only, web-only account types.) So if you're comparing Office 365 to Google Apps, the cost differential is either $72 a year (compared to the free version of Google Apps) or $22 a year (for the paid). Is Office 365 worth the extra $22 a year? Duh. Should Microsoft have offered a limited, freebie version to compete with the free Google Apps? Yeah, I think so.

This is a big deal. The collaboration and web features from SharePoint and the new presence and communications features in Lync are largely unknowns outside of big companies. So this stuff is going to be shockingly good for most people. My advice is to at least give it a shot. You can get a 30 day free trial at the Office 365 web site. You should do so. (And people who were on the Office 365 beta now have 30 days to make a decision to buy.)