Microsoft compare

10+ things you should know before buying Office 365

Office 365 can be a good fit in certain circumstances. If you're thinking about it, here are the basic facts you need to know before you buy in.

Office__365.jpg

There's been a lot of hype about Office 365, and you might be considering it for yourself, your clients, or your organization. Office 365 is Microsoft's cloud version of Office. You'll connect via the internet, set up an account, make payment, download the appropriate files, and go to work. There are no installation discs. If you decide that Office 365 might be the right step for your organization, be sure to read 10 things you should know about moving to Office 365 by Brien Posey.

IT consultants will probably know all of the technical points in this article, but you might find some new arguments both for and against moving to Office 365.

1. What's the cloud?

The cloud is an industry term for an off-site file hosting service. When working with Office 365 files, you upload and synchronize files with Windows SkyDrive (Microsoft's cloud). If you want to access files from different locations or devices that don't have Office, this works to your advantage. You can also store files locally; your files belong to you.

2. The three faces of Office

Most of us have been using the desktop version for years. Office 365 and Office Web Apps are recent additions to the family. Office Web Apps is a free and limited Internet version of Office that's integrated with SkyDrive. You'll use Web Apps to view and edit files on devices that don't have Office installed.

Office 365 is a subscription-based plan that offers Office functionality in the cloud. It's a hybrid (of sorts) between the desktop version and the free web apps. Excuse the marketing hype, but Office 365 offers desktop functionality with web-based convenience supporting multiple devices. That last part is what matters to users and clients.

3. What you'll need

Office 365 requires Windows 7 or 8. Mac users need OS X 10.6 (or later). You'll also need Internet access to install Office 365 and to activate and manage your subscription (once a month). You'll need a compatible browser. IE 9, Firefox 12, Safari 5, or Chrome 18. Regarding hardware, at the very least, your local system will need the following.

  • 1 GHz processor or Intel processor (for Macs).
  • 1 GB or RAM (32-bit); 2 GB RAM (64-bit).
  • 3 GB of available hard disk space; 2.5 GB for Macs.

When I say at the very least, I mean that Office 365 will run, but it will be slow (really slow... really, really slow). Users with older systems might face significant upgrade costs before they can move to Office 365.

4. The subscription costs

A small business with 25 or fewer users can purchase Office 365 Small Business. If you pay by the year, you'll pay $5, payable in an annual fee of $60 (per user). If you prefer to pay as you go, you'll pay $6 a user per month. Small Business Premium includes the desktop version of all the Office apps, for $150 a year per user. If you have more than 25 users, opt for one of the Enterprise versions from $8 to $24 per user (monthly). In a nutshell.

  • Small Business accommodates up to 25 users.
  • Midsize Business accommodates up to 300 users.
  • Enterprise for over 300 users.

Home Premium is available for $9.99 a month ($99.99 a year). You can work with five pcs or Macs, and five mobile devices. Android devices and iPhones will need Office Mobile. Windows Phone comes with Office Mobile and it doesn't count toward the five-device limit.

5. What you'll get

The apps you get depend on your subscription choice. Most PC plans include Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Access, OneNote, and even Publisher. The Mac business versions don't include OneNote, Publisher, or Access.

6. Compatible formats

Office 365 files are compatible with Office 2010 and 2013. Office 2007 also works, but you'll lose some functionality. You can use Office Web Apps with these files. Office 2003 users have limited access with an appropriate compatibility pack, but that will end in January 2014.

Office 2013 users considering Office 365 so they can share files with others who don’t have Office do not need Office 365. They can save Office 2013 files to SkyDrive and invite others who don't have Office to view them. Invitees don't need a SkyDrive account or Office to view files on SkyDrive (but they will need an invitation).

7. Perks

Office 365 subscriptions offer more than software. Subscriptions come with 27 GB of storage on SkyDrive, free website hosting with applicable tools, and 60 Skype minutes per month for landline calls.

8. Who needs it?

I can hear the wheels turning. If Web Apps is free, why purchase anything at all? (Nice try!) Web Apps is seriously limited. It's great for viewing. It also offers basic editing and formatting features, but not much else. It isn't a substitute for the desktop version or Office 365. Just remember that Office 2010 or 2013 users don't need Office 365 to work in the cloud. However, if you want the convenience of working with your files on multiple devices that don't have Office, Office 365 is a great addition for you.

Initially, home users might balk at paying $100 a year for Office, but Office 365 Home Premium supports five desktops and five mobile devices. You can't possibly buy that many licenses for less. Office 365 can save multiple-unit families money.

9. Free alternatives

Google Docs is by far Office 365's closest competitor. It's reliable and secure. The free (personal) version is a functional tool that you can use with your business software. However, it isn’t a free replacement for business software.

10. Office 365 security

Most organizations considering the cloud worry about security. Office 365 offers the same user-level security options and Trust Center as the desktop version. Rights management Service (RMS) supports encryption and lets you set permissions. Users will have a reasonable amount of security at their level. Offsite, files are saved in specialized data centers where security is a primary concern. In a nutshell, small to medium businesses will have better security using Office 365 than they can (probably) afford on their own.

Here are just a few facts you should know about Microsoft's cloud security.

  • Office 365 applications use encryption; transmissions intercepted by anyone without authorization can't be read.
  • Microsoft Office 365 is certified as compliant by accepted industry (ISO) standards. (It doesn't fully satisfy the PCI-DSS standard.)
  • Controls are in place to comply with HIPPA and FERPA.

Kirk Koenigsbauer, Corporate Vice President at Microsoft had this to say about Office 365 security concerns. "…Office 365 supports the most rigorous global and regional standards such as ISO 27001, SAS70 Type II, EU Safe Harbor, EU Model Clauses, the US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the US Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and the US Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). To meet evolving needs, we also plan to support IPv6 in Office 365 for Government by September of this year, and we're taking steps to soon support Criminal Justice Information Security (CJIS) policies."

You can learn more about Office 365 security by reading Security in Office 365 Whitepaper.

Bonus!

11. Can I use Office 365 offline?

Office 365 runs offline. You must connect to the internet every 30 days to maintain your subscription. Office 365 will let you know when it's time to connect.

The pros and cons

Right now, the Office 365 market is small but growing. There are three compelling reasons to buy a subscription.

  1. If you work from more than one location.
  2. If you use different devices to access Office files.
  3. If your organization supports many users and you plan to keep them current on versions.


About

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

38 comments
Gene Roberts
Gene Roberts


 I first read the specs for Office 365 Home Premium at softwarespeedy.com

I really didn't have much use for it, but nevertheless I knew my PC use could benefit from an upgrade such as getting Windows 7 Pro or Windows 8.1 to run my machine.

Gene Roberts
Gene Roberts


 I first read the specs for Office 365 Home Premium at softwarespeedy.com

I really didn't have much use for it, but nevertheless I knew my PC use could benefit from an upgrade such as getting Windows 7 Pro or Windows 8.1 to run my machine.

paultm78
paultm78

I find this article misleading to what Office 365 is. There is too much focus on Pro Plus (excel/word etc).  The starting comment "Office 365 is Microsoft's cloud version of Office"  is just wrong.    Office 365 is a suite of products and described a PaaS (platform as a service). The fact you may get a licence to Office 2013 is just an extra (not all plans even give this at all!)   Exchange Online,  SharePoint Online are the main ones which allow a company to no longer need on premise servers for mail and file storage/collaboration.  This is just the start..   you have Lync, Yammer,  Azure AD,  links to Windows intune..   I could go on and on.

latheefbabu
latheefbabu

I don't like office 365's theme..is there any way to change it.????


I know all the small changes making it dark grey by going options....is there anything else? 


Any can help me in this?

JanCohen
JanCohen

Please answer this question that I cannot find a response to anywhere:  If I have Office 365 and I am not connected to the Internet (like on a plane or someplace without connectivity) can I create and edit documents? Does the software reside on my computer(s)?  I cannot find it in the filing cabinet and that makes me worry about this.


Thanks

leondewet55
leondewet55

ok, explain one thing, when you say...

"You can work with five pcs or Macs, and five mobile devices. Android devices and iPhones will need Office Mobile"

My question in store was that I have 4 employees and need Microsoft office for us to work, they gave me Office 365 and said I only need to pay the yearly fee and that it will cover up to 5 pc's.

What does this mean? I tried and was unable to get my other employees to download office 365 because it states they also need licenses???

Do I now need to purchase more "users" after they told me it covers 5 pc's??

Compo$it
Compo$it

My carrier AT&T provides this service too. We have 41 users. I love the US based English speaking technical support that my end users have access to. All I do is add, upgrade, downgrade, and remove users. And it is a monthly consumption base pay system, pay for 41 users this month or 31 users next month. It's been great. We did have a hick up on the migration but that was on our server. We use Lync and share point daily as a team. Office 2013 is great too.

Thunderbolt1989
Thunderbolt1989

Office 365 is perfect for my company.  I maintain an office in a real office while my analyst works from home.  We share files, we work on Word, Excel, Outlook and Adobe files all day.  I have a 2.5 year old laptop with Win 7 that has never crashed and never had a virus.  All those who complain about computer's crashing, go buy a new one.  Computers are like cars, they break down, time for the new one already.  If you live in a rural area, take up your internet issue with your IP.  How do you expect to share files in the cloud with other people without an internet connection.  Its either back to floppy disks and FedEx or email attachments, the choice is yours, figure out what is best for your situation.  In any cloud service, you will need 1.5mb+ of bandwidth to have a good experience.  It doesn't matter if you use Google Docs or similar, a stable and robust internet connection is a must.  Half of these complaints out here are whiners with nothing to do who have a problem they refuse to admit (rural internet, crashing computers, etc.), look at the big picture people and face it Office 365 works better than anything else out there for companies like me with 25 or less employees.  I get a Microsoft Exchange server that syncs my emails, calendar, smartphone of any kind and I can store 25 gigs of stuff that can be shared with whoever for $6 a month.  To put a Microsoft Exchange server hardware box in my office would cost $10k by the time its loaded and functioning.  And guess what its powerful enough to run a 75 man operation.  This is the cheapest server in the market.  Yes Dell tried a cheaper version, but its still a box in your office that has to be wired and maintained by a consultant.  Unless you want the $10k 75 person server, trust me Office 365 is much better than Google Docs, Drop Box or anything else out there.  I have used it for 2.5 years and it improved substantially last spring.  Its hosts my website Office 365 gave me all the templates and tools needed to create my own website and I did it for free.  My website rivals any of my competitors and I can change it on the fly.  No need for a IT consultant with Office 365.  Those who complain have not put the hour or 2 it takes to properly set it up with a newish computer.  I bet every whiner is iOS Mac user who is being forced to use something better.  So get over it and move on.

Thunderbolt1989
Thunderbolt1989

Office 365 is perfect for my company.  I maintain an office in a real office while my analyst works from home.  We share files, we work on Word, Excel, Outlook and Adobe files all day.  I have a 2.5 year old laptop with Win 7 that has never crashed and never had a virus.  All those who complain about computer's crashing, go buy a new one.  Computers are like cars, they break down, time for the new one already.  If you live in a rural area, take up your internet issue with your IP.  How do you expect to share files in the cloud with other people without an internet connection.  Its either back to floppy disks and FedEx or email attachments, the choice is yours, figure out what is best for your situation.  In any cloud service, you will need 1.5mb+ of bandwidth to have a good experience.  It doesn't matter if you use Google Docs or similar, a stable and robust internet connection is a must.  Half of these complaints out here are whiners with nothing to do who a problem they refuse to admit (rural internet, crashing computers, etc., look at the big picture people and face it Office 365 works better than anything else out there.

shaw3413
shaw3413

The 365 office is HORRIBLE---esp. if you have unreliable or unsteady internet connections (i.e., you live in rural Canada).  You're supposed to be able to collaborate with other computers with the 265 office!  Ha! Not with Publisher.  Good luck trying to print your newsletters out!  HA!  Great big x's suddenly appear where a picture was supposed to be, and you cannot get the picture back--and it prints that damn x in it, too. Office Word is OK--as long as you don't throw in any pictures. However, if you are working on your earth-shattering novel that you've been writing since Grade 6 as I have been (which makes it a little over 5 decades for me, so don't look for it in print anytime soon), it works GREAT!  You can transfer your latest chapter off to your laptop so you can watch Law and Order and work on your novel at the same time.  Afterwards you can send  it back down to the boat anchor computer which is connected to the printer to print it out and put into your chapter binders:).  Keep your Office 2010, if you haven't used up the number of times your allowed to reinstall it after your computers crash.  Bill Gates is cheap, people.

atimwei
atimwei

For business with complex business process or project management requirements the work flow management feature embedded in SharePoint will be a godsend feature,


wjohanne
wjohanne

Home users are permitted to install five copies of the program...  How many home users would use that many copies ???

My wife and I use the one copy of Office on our home PC, we don't need extra copies of the program to run - especially at $99 p.a.

We won't be lemmings and upgrade simply because there's a new version of Office available.  Once we're forced to upgrade to a newer version, we'll remove Office in place of Open Office or LibreOffice.

ellrllgllo
ellrllgllo

Microsoft wants me to pay for software? When did this start?  ;)

info
info

I warn my clients that 2013/365 is quite flaky compared to the robust 2010. Both Excel and Word now crash   on me 5-6 times a day when working on complex documents and large copy/pastes from other sources. (And of course, recovery never has ALL one's changes). 
Word Mailmerge has lost it's DDE functionality (which maintained displayed formatting compatibility from Excel ... damn annoying and timewasting having to recode documents with numerous MERGEFIELD FORMAT commands).
Excel has lots of animated eye candy when copying/pasting/editing which is truly annoying when working on it all day.
Simple things have gone or changed location (as usual).
Hey MS, fine if you want to add new stuff ... but don't fix old things which ain't broke!

shonlh01
shonlh01

Having to run Windows OS on a machine to use it makes this unpractical.  I work with a group that uses MAC, Windows and Linux operating systems based on choice.  I doubt any Linux user would want to switch to MS Windows to use a cloud based software.  .  

cc@.....
cc@.....

I've successfully used Office 365 Small Business on Windows XP and it runs fine, yet the writer of this article says only Windows 7 & 8?

sparent
sparent

They must have added the limit on  mobile devices recently. Last time I checked on my Office account, there was no limit. 

I'm also surprised at the monthly Internet check. I bought Home Premium for the full year. Why would it need to check on a monthly basis? It sounds surprisingly like the XBoxOne debacle. 

ericeck
ericeck

I use both Google Apps and Office 365 because of the different clients I work with. One thing I really liked about Office 365 is SkyDrive Pro for sharing files between multiple computers.  However, SkyDrive Pro doesn't work with every file type.  Uploading a zipped website or other form of source code can cause errors and never be fully uploaded.  SkyDrive Pro is actually pushing files to the SharePoint file storage, so there are some restrictions to be aware of.  Files beginning with a period are not allowed which can cause problems if you're using certain types of source code control or developing websites that run on Apache.  I was able to get around these issues by using DropBox.

Even with this issue, I still feel Office 365 can be a great value for certain businesses. A small business can actually save money using Office 365 when you take into account that SharePoint can provide both internal and public websites, and (depending on the subscription) each user includes a license for Office 2013 that can be installed on up to five devices.

hug.login
hug.login

Sorry Microsoft, you gona lose me as customer but I know you don't care.

TJ@Chariot4BI.com
TJ@Chariot4BI.com

Susan -

Unfortunately, I think you missed the "big picture" on exactly what is Office 365.  It is much more than just "Microsoft's cloud version of Office".  Microsoft offers a business productivity suite called "Office 2013" that is available in a variety of versions (SKUs), like all previous versions of Office (2003, 2007, 2010, etc.). 

On the other hand, Microsoft also offers a business product called Office 365. With Office 365 users can develop a "virtual" office, if you will, to connect remote and/or deskless employees.  It includes business email (Exchange Server online), collaboration (SharePoint online), and conferencing (Lync Online - web conferencing, IM, video chat, etc.) capabilities.  And, oh yes, there are some Office 365 configurations that include subscriptions for the Office 2013 ProPlus (adds Access, Publisher, and in some cases InfoPath to the basic Office 2013 package) desktop version.  That subscription allows loading Office 2013 ProPlus on up to 5 devices used by the licensed user.

Just wanted to add this for clarity as I'm seeing lots of people misstating exactly what Office 365 encompasses - it's much more than a "cloud version of office".

Regards,

TJ Doherty

ccrdesign
ccrdesign

Excellent article, Susan. I use LibreOffice. Got tired of Microsoft's gouging with every new version of Office. I also have though about Linux, but have been too lazy to make the change, so far.


Joe Mason
Joe Mason

LibreOffice and OpenOffice. Break away from the MS BS!

Ronen
Ronen

Good article, you forgot to mention that Google Apps is half the price for a business user, and brings features not available in O365 like Forms.

carlsf
carlsf

Sorry Microsoft for two reasons..............

1) I refuse to purchase 365 or 2013 as it is not as good as 2010 PREM which I have.

2) I refuse to be caught up in the Microsoft upgrade and cost increases round about.

We will purchase Win7 PRO and Office 2010 until Microsoft refuse to allow us to.

At which time it is off to Google Docs and Linux on our systems.

paultm78
paultm78

@latheefbabu HI,   unfortunately Office 2013 only has these options you already mentioned.  I understand where you are coming from..  it is very 'white'..    this is a very common complaint with the product

paultm78
paultm78

@JanCohen You have Office 2013 and Office Web apps.. two things.  Web apps are online only,  and 2013 full is installed on your PC and available offline.

myITthing
myITthing

@JanCohen Yes, you can create and edit documents without an internet connection.  You need a connection to download and install the software, but it is installed locally on your computer.

paultm78
paultm78

@leondewet55 As Jez says you can just installed and activate on each PC (with your account).  However a licence is meant to be for one user to have on up to 5 of their own devices.  It will work that way but you are probably in breach of the licence.

Jezema87
Jezema87

@leondewet55  You just need to login to your account on their computers, and then go to software and download from there.  It should list what computers you have it installed on and say something like "Remaining installs available: 4"

shaw3413
shaw3413

@wjohanne you'll need the extra copies after each computer crash.  Maybe your computers don't crash as much as mine.

ssharkins
ssharkins

@wjohanne 365 is new, but it's really an alternative. It's another tool in the arsenal but if you don't need it, don't buy it -- absolutely agree with you. You can still purchase full-blown Office for your local systems. 

ssharkins
ssharkins

@info I don't like 2013 animation and have turned it off. But, I'm not seeing the crashes that you are. This is unfortunate. 

paultm78
paultm78

@shonlh01 365 will work on Macs and Linux too.  If you login on a Mac it will offer you Office for Mac.  If you log into the portal from a browser you will get Outlook web access and SharePoint online too

ssharkins
ssharkins

@ericeck I love SkyDrive and use it a lot. There are third-party products available for working with non-supported formats. 

shaw3413
shaw3413

@TJ@Chariot4BI.com   You have to have awfully good and steady internet for it to work properly.  In any case, it's not as good as Office 2010--esp. Publisher.  Not even close.

PhilM
PhilM

@ccrdesign Come over to the Opensource side.  Not having to purchase any desktop software over the past 9 years must have saved me a fair amount of money.

paultm78
paultm78

@carlsf You can use Office 365 still with Office 2010.  This article is misleading as it is not actually just another way of getting the Office suite.  It is more about Exchange Online (mail server)   and SharePoint Online (collaboration and storage)