Is Office 365 still the best productivity suite on the planet? Find out as Microsoft finally embraces the benefits of the cloud.
The article was originally published on 1 March 2013.
Update: Office 365 users wanting to work on documents across multiple devices may be in luck. Microsoft have signed a deal with several OEMs to pre-install apps such as OneNote, OneDrive, Skype and selected Office apps on certain smartphones and teblets. The deal includes partnerships with Samsung and Dell, as well as various regional manufacturers.
Certain levels of Office 365 subscribers can now officially preview Office 2016 and Skype for Business. Customers on the ProPlus, Enterprise E3 and Enterprise E4 bands can sign up to trial the software, with all Office 365 users getting the update when it officially rolls out.
Office 365 for businesses brings Office 2013, new collaboration features and above all a sense that Microsoft has finally embraced the cloud whole-heartedly.
Google's relentless push with its enterprise Google Apps service has forced Microsoft's to up its game. Having initially updated Office 365 for consumers, Redmond has now rolled out an upgrade for its business and enterprise users. This sports enhancements to collaboration and messaging tools such as Lync, SkyDrive and a Newsfeed alongside both web based applications and their fully featured standalone counterparts.
Upon signing into the Office 365 – users are presented with a number of options – including the ability to take a tour and see all the latest features.
The interface has been simplified considerably and there is an emphasis on helping users to set up email, Lync and documents.
So what’s included – the usual Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access are included as well as SharePoint and Lync for collaboration services and of course the ability to access Exchange online.
IT Pro has already reviewed Microsoft's Office 2013 suite and we were impressed with its clean interface. Office 365 is no different, from the administration panel through to SkyDrive and the website builder, Microsoft has packaged a vast amount of features in a clear and simple manner. This includes the ability to drag and drop and the to right-click on Office 365 files in the web browser to get menus. While Office 365 users will need spend a bit of time figuring out where things are, there are no major usability flaws with Microsoft's design and only requires minimal adjustments to existing workflow.
Microsoft has also brought some of Office 2013's headline features to Office 365 with the web-based apps. Excel application having the hit-and-miss Flash Fill feature. However the firm has yet to include web-based versions of Project and Visio in its various Office 365 subscription plans, which would be a boon for users who work out of the office on client sites, something that Office 365 is particularly well suited for.
Office on Demand
One of the headline feature is dubbed Office on Demand – which allows you to use Office on any machine which doesn’t have it installed. Simply connect to the internet – log into your account and click SkyDrive>Use Office on Demand and then the program you would like to use –Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, or Publisher.
Your PC will then download a client and Microsoft will then stream a full version of that program directly to your Windows 7/8 PC. The process that 60 seconds to set up but stability will depend on the speed of your internet connection so it’s not advisable to use this on a 3G connection – but on regular Wi-Fi networks it appears to work reasonably well. Any docs you create or edit will be saved to SkyDrive and once you log out the Office program will disappear.
Unfortunately this service does not extend to devices such as iPads and this could be a major missed opportunity for Microsoft.
Microsoft offers a number of Office 365 subscriptions and it is the Small Business Premium (£10.10), Midsize Business (£9.80) and Enterprise plans (£15.00) per month/user respectively that offer both web-based and standalone software. The firm puts a 25 and 300 user limit on Office 365 Small Business Premium and Midsize Business services, effectively making the Office 365 Enterprise service a catch-all for firms looking to deploy more than 300 accounts.
All of Microsoft's Office 365 services, including the cheapest Small Business plan that costs £3.90 comes with a service level agreement that cites 99.9 per cent uptime and round-the-clock telephone support.
Update: 18/03/2013 Microsoft is offering a one month free-trial of Office 365 Small Business Premium, Midsized Business and Enterprise Plan (E3) packages, allowing users to try the software before commiting to it long-term. The SMB free-trial allows up to 10 licenses, whereas the Mid-sized and Enterprise plans offer up to 25 licenses.
Processor: 1 GHz or greater x86/x64 processor with SSE2 instruction set (PC), Intel processor (Mac)
Memory: 1GB RAM (32-bit or Mac) /2 GB RAM (64-bit)
Hard disk: 3GB free disk space (PC), 2.5 GB HFS+ hard disk format (Mac)
Operating system (PC):Windows 7 or newer, either 32-bit or 64-bit; Windows 2008R2 or newer with .Net 3.5 or greater. It isn't possible to install the new Office on a PC running Windows XP or Vista. To use the new Office with Windows 8, you must be running the Release Preview version or higher.
Operating system (Mac): Mac OS X version 10.6 or later
Graphics: Graphics hardware acceleration requires DirectX 10 graphics card and 1366 x 728 resolution (PC), 1280 x 800 screen resolution (Mac)