Introduction to Office 365
There's still some confusion around what Office 365 is. Some confuse it with Office Web Apps, the online, stripped-down version of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.
Some think it's the latest version of Microsoft Office, but available to rent rather than buy.
In reality it goes far beyond both those things, and by doing so gives businesses (and individuals) clear benefits compared to the traditional way of buying Office. For starters, we'll list our top nine:
Your business can work anywhere, be that from the office PC, someone's personal laptop, or in an office they're visiting - and they'll always be able to view (and in some cases edit) shared documents via their smartphone
Updates are applied automatically so the software is always improving and evolving, and always totally up to date and therefore at its most secure
Your Office 365 sign-in can be used to install all of the familiar applications directly from the cloud, and you can start working on a document soon after the download process begins
If you're away from your usual PC, you can stream Office applications to a totally different computer so you can carry on working - once you log out, Office disappears with you
You can customise the look and feel of every application to your personal tastes, and those settings will follow you from PC to PC
That login is the gateway to your own online storage. For a large business that could be SharePoint, for other businesses SkyDrive Pro, and for personal use it's SkyDrive (think of this as an online locker for storing and accessing your Office documents and other files, and for sharing them with others)
You can pay for Office on a monthly or annual basis, rather than having a much larger cost in one financial year
No more worrying about email: let Microsoft, or one of its partners, take the burden of hosting and keeping things secure
You can choose the subscription that's right for your business
Let's pick up on that last point. For use in the office, options range from a simple hosted business-class email account, through small and midsize business packages for up to 25 users, right up to the full enterprise packages with no limit on the number of users.
Office 365 Small Business gives business-class hosted email, 25GB of storage per user, access to Office Web Apps for editing files in a browser, the use of high-definition web conferencing, screen sharing and instant messaging, and an included company website. The recommended Small Business Premium adds the full Office 2013 desktop applications and mobile apps on top.
Office 365 Midsize Business and Enterprise subscriptions come with access to the Web Apps, HD video conferencing and public company website, but also add Active Directory integration, a range of intranet workspaces, and site mailboxes. Midsize Business is for 300 users and up to 20 intranet subsites, while Enterprise supports unlimited users and up to 3,000 subsites, along with advanced email archiving and hosted voicemail support.
Office 365 Home Premium lets you install Office on up to five PCs or MacsIf you also want to buy Office 365 for home use, Office 365 Home Premium lets you install Office on up to five PCs or Macs - so if you buy a new laptop in the future, you can simply deactivate an old installation to make room. Unlike a standard Office 2013 installation, you also get 60 minutes of free Skype calls each month, 20GB of complimentary SkyDrive storage and access to its files anywhere via Office on Demand, Microsoft's streaming service for systems without a local Office installation.
There really is a flavour to suit very user, and the flexibility of a monthly or annual subscription means Office 365 can easily be adapted as your business changes. Need support for more users or extra features? Just upgrade to the next tier. Support is simple due to the ease of installation and automatic updating, and the costs are spread out rather than coming in lump-sum upgrades every few years. In fact, Office 365 removes the concept of a big upgrade entirely, as you'll get every new feature as and when it's finished.
Live updating, file collaboration, remote working: if it all sounds worryingly different, rest assured the same Office suite is still resting beneath the new cloud coating. Every subscription to Office 365 includes the new 2013 versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher and Access, and you'll get all the same features as someone buying Office 2013 outright - but with the added flexibility offered by the cloud.
What's new? Word 2013 now lets you edit PDFs and watch videos from within documents, it introduces a new reading view, and it keeps track of where you are in your documents so you can resume on another computer. Excel 2013 adds some wonderful data analysis and fill tools, improved chart automation, and richer data labels and animations.
PowerPoint 2013 has a cleaner design and a new Presenter View, Outlook 2013 is revamped with inline replies, and all of the applications are now optimised to a certain extent for touch and pen input, so you can install Office 365 on a Windows 8 tablet without worrying about compatibility.
The subscription approach won't be for everyone, which is why the standard Office 2013 suite remains available to buy outright. But Microsoft clearly believes online is the future, and once users have experienced the flexibility and freedom of Office in the cloud, they may well agree.