Office 365 has just been through a major upgrade that included a facelift and UI changes, as well as improvements to the social and communication aspects. In addition to shared team and public sites, you now have SkyDrive Pro storage that will allow you 25GB of personal online storage with shared reviewing and editing of files, as well as synchronising with your desktop. This allows for offline backup and editing, with automatic updates to the cloud.
If you’re familiar with Microsoft’s previous Small Business Server, then the basic Office 365 functions will be familiar. Office 365 offers Outlook, Calendar, Sites (team and public SharePoint sites), People (your contacts), SkyDrive, and a new Newsfeed. There is tight integration between the different functions, and collaboration and document versioning are built in. Office 365 also provides web app versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote to allow you to create and edit your files, as well as the option to use the latest desktop versions of the Office suite. If you already use it, Office 365 will integrate with any existing licences from Office 2007 and up.

I’ve already had an Office 365 installation for some months, so I was guided through an update process that moved my previous files to the new version. The opening page provides a Getting Started pane that introduces you to the new system under the Collaboration, Public website, and Software headings, and the help information is well laid out and easy to follow. I’ve covered the steps necessary to purchase a licence and move from an MS Small Business Server in a previous column, so in this column, I’ll start with an overview of Outlook, which is accessible from the menu at the top of the web page.


Outlook starts in the now-familiar three-pane view, but without the ribbon menus of the full Outlook 2013. New emails will not display graphics by default, although the links at the top of the email allow you to remove these restrictions for the email or sender. Unread emails have a highlight (the thin, blue line) and you may select multiple emails by clicking to the left of the email. When you select multiple emails, the right viewing pane changes to a menu of options allowing you to delete, flag, mark as read/unread, or move the group, which can be single emails or conversations.

In the Navigation pane on the left of the screen, you can right-click on a folder to create, empty, rename, and delete folders, and set archive and retention policies as well as folder permissions.

The Tasks link at the bottom of the navigation pane lets you view and edit your current tasks. Any flagged emails will appear in the general task list, so it’s an easy way to mark incoming emails for further action. Tasks may be categorised with a different-coloured icon, and the task editing provides both a simple and detailed view. Unfortunately, these are still My Tasks, and I see no way to share or allocate them to other people in your organisation. Of course, this is usually the job of a project management system such as MS Project, but it would be nice to have the feature.

Beside the menu at the top of the screen, you’ll see your IM status next to your account name. Clicking here will allow you to manage your instant messaging status. While Office 365 offers Lync for chat, audio/video conversations, and meetings, you don’t need it for an IM chat with anyone in your organisation. Either find the person in People or a message from them, and click on the IM icon in their details.

When their name is displayed in email or People, a green highlight or icon will indicate if they are online.

In the View Pane, there are the usual Reply and Forward options, but also an ellipsis (…) that leads to more actions. The menu provides the usual delete, print, junk, and categorise functions, but also allows you to create a rule. Rules are an important feature of Outlook, as they allow you to manage your email by automatically moving, deleting, or re-sending emails based on a variety of filters. Once again, you are offered a simple method to create a rule based on the content of the email or a “more options” link that provides more functions and exceptions.

The full set of Options for Outlook is available from the Settings menu accessed by clicking the gear icon at the top right of the page. You can create and edit rules and set automated replies and retention policies, as well as manage a variety of other functions.

I’ve been using Outlook on the web for a number of years, but this version seems to be able to finally replace my Outlook on the desktop. Even Outlook 2013 is cluttered with its ribbon menus, while this Outlook Web App provides a much cleaner UI without sacrificing most of the functionality of the desktop version. Now, I’m sure there may be some functions of Outlook 2013 desktop that I don’t use that may still be critical for some people, but this version certainly ticked all of my boxes. If you don’t like the blue-and-white theme, you can select from a variety of themes that will change the menu background and highlight colours.

The layout works fine on my Surface RT on IE11, although I prefer the 125 percent zoom to easily read and select the emails. I primarily use IE10 on my desktop for Office 365, but I did try Firefox briefly and had no problems, although it did seem a little slower in display.

In my next column, I’ll look at the some of the other aspects of the new Office 365, including SkyDrive Pro and the new Newsfeed, which seems much like an internal Facebook for your organisation.