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Tuesday's official launch of Microsoft Office 365 squarely positions the company as the latest major contender seeking to win a share of the rapidly growing Cloud Computing marketplace.

Although Microsoft has been saying that it is “All In” and funding a TV ad campaign, which has made the catchphrase “To the Cloud” popular, Microsoft 365 represents the company’s boldest offering to date. The company has been watching its Office suite suffer attacks from Google (GOOG) Apps for years. In fact, Google Apps are quickly becoming the basic productivity suite of choice for most new college graduates entering the workforce.

Many of these new entrants to the workforce are forgoing email altogether by relying more on Facebook, Twitter and text to communicate. In response to these trends, Salesforce.com is pushing its Facebook-like Chatter communications platform as a dramatic switch from traditional email.

IBM is also attacking the Microsoft Office franchise with its revamped LotusLive offering. And, VMware (VMW) is pushing its Zimbra alternative. You can also expect Apple (AAPL) to put more emphasis on its web-based productivity tools to build on its iCloud platform which has already captured plenty of market attention.

All of these players recognize that the first step in the corporate migration process to the Cloud tends to be via email. While this seems like an easy place to start the journey to Cloud-based alternatives, there are still plenty of risks associated with moving in this direction, ranging from reliability to security.

One of THINKstrategies’ most recent clients, Exoprise, recently conducted a survey which found plenty of interest in Cloud-based email alternatives, but an equal amount of apprehension about the uncertainties regarding these offerings as well.

Exoprise has devised a Cloud-based tool which can help organizations evaluate their on-premise versus Cloud email alternatives by assessing current and projected usage patterns. It is offering free access to the assessment tool so IT and business decision-makers can determine if Microsoft 365 fit their needs.

Unlike in the case of Microsoft’s many ill-fated operating system adventures of the past, which it was able to withstand because there was limited competition, a failure to jumpstart its Cloud offerings with Microsoft Office 365 will adversely impact its position in the market because of the growing success of Google Apps and other Cloud alternatives.

Therefore, you can expect Microsoft to put plenty of effort into making Office 365 a success to better position the company in the Cloud for the long haul, even if it cannibalizes some of its traditional Office software revenue initially.

Source: Microsoft Moves to the Clouds