May 28, 2014

What is Office 365? A Clear & Concise Overview of Office 365

Fernando Berrios

Fernando Berrios

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This article will provide a brief overview of what makes up Office 365, a summary of all of its key features and components, and the various plans and licensing options.

To put it simply, Office 365 brings the Microsoft Office suite of applications into the 21st century. It is the product of Microsoft accepting that a lot of the users of its traditional Office offerings are no longer tied to a desktop, they are mobile, and those things shouldn’t stop them from being productive. Microsoft also embraced the fact that their users needed better tools for collaboration as well as better and persistent access to their important documents. Office 365 also supports Microsoft’s vision of cloud computing, specifically that of running a company’s groupware suite of apps. With Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Lync Online, users get all the benefits of accessing their email, calendar, company resources, and communication tools without the need of an extensive infrastructure or a big IT department.

So that’s the general idea, but what does it really mean? How is that idea implemented? Well, for starters, there is the payment model. Instead of the standard pricing, Office 365 becomes a subscription service. Like all software as a service (SAAS) offerings, there are various options to choose from depending on your particular needs.

First, let’s go over the key Office 365 features and then see how they fit into each of the subscriptions available.

Office 365 Features

The first of these features are the core of Office. To achieve the goal of being able to work whenever and wherever, users can access, create, and edit documents in any of these three ways:

–  Office applications –The regular Office applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) you know and love, updated to take advantage of the collaboration and cloud file syncing features.

–  Office Mobile – Native mobile apps available for Windows Phone, iPhone, iPad, and various Android devices.

–  Office Web Apps – Online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, available on any computer with a web browser.

Both the Office Mobile and Office Web Apps are game changers for Microsoft and they demonstrate their commitment to keep their Office users, regardless of which platform they choose to use.

In addition to the standard Office applications available in new ways, Office 365 also offers access to several other services that can make Office 365 more enticing:

One Drive (formerly SkyDrive) – OneDrive is a relatively new product, but it is a core component of the Office 365 suite.  It is the part that takes care of collaboration, file backup, and synchronization features. If you’ve used or heard of Dropbox or Google Drive then you are already familiar with what OneDrive provides but with better integration with Office apps.

Exchange – Outlook/Exchange accounts are hosted in the Microsoft cloud, which means you don’t need to have a dedicated server to run and maintain, and the administration is all done through a web page, which makes the routine IT tasks easy. Email, calendar events, and contacts are all stored remotely, safe and secure inside Microsoft’s data centers.

Lync – Another key component of Office 365, Lync is a communication tool that makes collaboration faster and easier. Users are able to send instant messages, audio and video calls, and share screens and presentations, either one-on-one or to a group of users. If your company leverages services like GoToMeeting or WebEx, then using Lync as part of your Office 365 subscription can replace these types of services and provide some cost savings.  A handy feature of Lync is that it integrates with your Outlook account and automatically updates your status (e.g., when you are in a meeting it will automatically set your status as busy or if you are out of the office it will use your out of office message as its status).

SharePoint Online – SharePoint Online brings its world-class collaboration and information-sharing platform to the cloud. Organizations using older versions of SharePoint on-premises can migrate their content and take advantage of all the new features. One thing to note if you are planning to migrate your old SharePoint solution to SharePoint Online is that custom on-premise solutions may not work or be supported.  This can add significant cost to your migrations.

Office 365 Pricing

Now that we’ve given you an overview of the key features and products, let’s discuss pricing. Since the home/student subscriptions for Office 365 are simpler and more straightforward I am going to focus on the Office 365 for business plans (government and education plans and prices differ somewhat). Microsoft has segmented the plans into three main areas: small business, midsize business and enterprise. Across these three areas the prices range from $5 to $22 per user per month. Small business plans all have a maximum of 25 users, midsize business has a maximum of 300 users and all enterprise plans have no user limits. Get more information on the differences between all the plans directly from Microsoft.

Office 365 can definitely be a great investment for businesses because it lowers in-house costs for IT and software licensing. The flexibility it provides by being able to work anywhere and collaborate with team members offers the possibility of a huge boost to productivity.

If you are looking for additional information on Office 365 and other Microsoft technologies, check out our other blog posts or follow @CrederaMSFT on Twitter.

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