Microsoft kicked off its SharePoint conference with some good news for businesses looking to add a social networking component to their communications tools.
Company officials said that, beginning in March, it is bundling Yammer paid services into a single offering called Yammer Enterprise, and that the price of the combined services falls from $15 per user, per month, to a monthly starting price of just $3 per user.
Yammer's enterprise social networking tools will be rolled up into SharePoint 2013, which was released to professional users last month, and other parts of Office.
"While the new SharePoint has a lot of great social capabilities, we acquired Yammer to take social networking to the next level," said SharePoint VP Jeff Teper, during a keynote presentation Monday at the SharePoint Conference 2012, in Las Vegas. "We have the same vision."
[ See our related article: Microsoft Sharepoint, Yammer Get Closer: The Social Story. ]
Microsoft acquired Yammer for $1.2 billion earlier this year. It effectively adds a private, Facebook-style social network to SharePoint and Office. It's also available for the cloud versions of those products -- SharePoint Online and Office 365.
In the coming weeks and months, Microsoft will be integrating Yammer features, such as conversation threads, directly into Office services like Outlook, as well as linking features such as enterprise search, so that a corporate user looking for information on a topic might be directed to conversations that colleagues had on the topic through Yammer.
Microsoft is also hoping to link Yammer with a host of other Office and SharePoint tools, including document management and sharing, business intelligence, and Lync messaging. The company did not provide specific dates for all of its goals. Most likely, users will see features added on a rolling basis, as Microsoft moves from a fixed upgrade schedule for SharePoint to a model that will see it roll out more frequent updates through the cloud.
"SharePoint 2013 is pivotal, because it's the beginning of a new era," said Microsoft senior director Jared Spataro, who also spoke at Monday's keynote. "We think of it as a bridge between where we've come from, and where we're going." SharePoint 2013 marks "the end of three-year release cycles, and the beginning of cloud updates every 90 days," Spataro said.
In keeping with the cloud model, Microsoft has established what is essentially an app store for SharePoint. Officials said more than 700,000 developers are working on SharePoint apps that will be distributed through the Office Store. "It is going to take the SharePoint ecosystem, which is already the largest ecosystem in the industry around collaborative applications, and take it to the next level," said Spataro.
On the mobile front, Microsoft introduced new SharePoint apps for Windows 8, Windows Phone, and Android. The company also said it is working on SharePoint apps for Apple's iOS, which runs the iPhone and iPad. Those should be available early next year, according to the company.
At the conference, Spataro also gave a live demonstration of a new SharePoint Service called SkyDrive Pro. It allows users to establish personal document troves either on a local server, or in the cloud. In addition to their own documents, users also see lists of suggested material, based on what they've previously stored. And it allows them to begin reading a document on one device, and pick up where they left off on another.
"This turns Office into a Kindle or Netflix –like experience," said Teper.
Microsoft officials also demonstrated a number of other new Office and SharePoint features that it said were available or coming soon, including a simplified user interface, new task lists and timelines for Project Management, and more customizable search through FAST search.
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