Microsoft’s Office 365 is getting into the online booking business.
The business technology giant said on Wednesday that its online work productivity suite added a new service called Microsoft Bookings, equipping businesses with a special website offering as an interactive calendar that companies can use as an online booking service for their own customers.
Office 365 Business Premium customers who signed up for an early access program can now use Bookings. In the next few months, Microsoft (MSFT) said Bookings would be available to all Business Premium customers.
Instead of being a tool that only employees within an organization can use, like the Excel spreadsheet service, Microsoft is pitching Bookings as a tool that Office users can use to interact with their own business clients who don’t have to be Office subscribers.
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The new service is meant to enable Office customers to set up their own online reservation websites akin to popular services like online restaurant booking company OpenTable.
Microsoft will make each Bookings website publicly available on the Internet. But in the next few weeks, Microsoft also plans to release an app that only Office customers can use to manage their Bookings pages and related meetings and schedules from their smartphones or tablets.
From the Microsoft blog post:
To get started, sign in to Office 365, open Bookings from the app launcher and then click the Get it now button. You’ll need to provide a bit of information about your business and the services you want your customers to book. After that, just click the Save and publish button in the booking page tab to publish your scheduling web page. Your customers will now be able to start booking appointments with your business.
Currently, there are many other online booking services available for people to use, including one from online payments company Square (SQ) and business software startups, such as Timely and Acuity Scheduling.
It’s worth pointing out that Microsoft’s new Bookings service, along with the rest of the company’s Office 365 software suite, is hosted in Microsoft’s cloud data centers, and it doesn’t appear to be software that users can download to their computers to use.
These cloud services have their advantages by being easier to upgrade and access from many different devices, but they also have some drawbacks.
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For example, in early July, Office 365 went offline for many U.S.-based customers right before the Fourth of July holiday. Once a cloud service experiences an outage—for reasons including software bugs, hardware errors, or powerful storms affecting cloud data centers—the service essentially is unusable for customers.
For a service like Bookings, it won’t be only Microsoft’s Office customers complaining in the chance it goes offline. Their respective customers might be irritable as well.