Cloud services are all the rage these days and Microsoft’s Office 365 cloud services are hot topic of conversation. Office 365 provides email (via Exchange Online), document collaboration (via SharePoint Online), and instant messages and online meetings using Lync Online.

Office 365 also provides features such as free/busy calendar sharing with Outlook, access to your email and calendar using mobile devices, document version control, web-based viewing and editing of Office documents, and voice and video calls to others in your organization, all for low monthly price. In fact Starting at a price of only $6 per user per month, the services are priced so attractively and offer so many features that many businesses, large and small, find the offer, well, compelling.

Working together

One of the key attractions is how well Microsoft Office 2010 works with Office 365. Many features of Microsoft Office simply “wake up” when you use Office 365. Scheduling meetings is easy since you can automatically see your colleague’s free/busy information in your calendar. Edit documents in the cloud using Microsoft Office and new features start to work that otherwise don’t appear.

In Figure A, you can see how Word offers features such as checking documents in and out, version control, and uses the URL of the file as easily as if it were stored locally.

Figure A

In fact, some of the pricing plans for Office 365 include Office Professional Pro Plus. If the plan you want doesn’t include Office Professional Plus, you can subscribe to it individually for $12 per month. This subscription allows you to always keep up to date with the latest version of Office, and you can install it up to five devices per user.

Free trial

Anyone can start using Office 365 for no cost by signing up for a free trial. You are not asked for your credit card and you’re not billed at the end of the period automatically. In other words, if you sign up for a trial and decide not to continue, do nothing and your trial will end. You’ll have 30 days of access to the services during the trial, and for 30 days afterward you can still access the services in case you have email or documents in the trial that you want to remove.

Cloud benefits

Figure B

As you can see in Figure B, since the document is in the cloud, if you edit the document and don’t check it out, another person can also edit the document. This brings up a potential conflict, but Word alerts you that another user is editing the document and lets you instant message the on the spot. This feature, called “co-authoring,” is only available in Office 2010.

Not to be outdone, you can also co-author documents using PowerPoint. In fact PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote all interact with Office 365 to provide presence information and access via the Recent list and version control. In addition, Access and Infopath have special capabilities that interact with SharePoint Online as well.

PowerPoint has many of the same capabilities as Word in the way it interacts with Office 365. However, there is special case with PowerPoint that is unique. The E plans for Office 365, include the ability to create a PowerPoint slide library. This allows you to publish a deck to SharePoint online and then later build a new deck by selecting just the slides you want. When you do this, you have the ability to link the online slides to your deck.

This way, when the online slide is updated, your deck is automatically refreshed with the new content. However, a slide library must be created in SharePoint Online by the service administrator before you can publish slides in this way.

OneNote has built in the ability to open a OneNote notebook stored in SharePoint Online and keep it synchronized with your PC. This notebook can be shared with other people in order to have a common workspace for keeping details, forms, or other information that needs to be distributed.

In Figure C, you can see the option under Personal titled “Share on the Web or Network”. Also this particular notebook is hosted on SharePoint Online and the URL is shown under Andy’s Notebook. The Settings menu shows how you can invite others to the notebook or force synchronization. And did I mention you can open your Office 365 hosted notebook (or other Office documents) from Windows 7 phone from the Office Hub?

Figure C

Have you ever had a list that you kept in Excel which you wanted several people to use in order to keep it up to date? SharePoint Online has a great feature that allows you to “Import a Spreadsheet”. Using this feature you can easily create a list in SharePoint Online that is stored in Excel. (Figure D)

Figure D

Once imported, multiple users can update the list. You can easily have SharePoint send you an email when the list is updated and if you want to, just export the list again to Excel.

Bottom line

These are just a few of the ways the Microsoft Office interacts with Office 365. We haven’t looked at some really big ones like Office Web Apps and online presence provided by Lync Online, as well synchronization from SharePoint Workspace, integration with Access, Visio, and Infopath. But the point of this post isn’t just to call out features that are available but rather to highlight how Office 365 lights-up Office to work in ways that aren’t possible when working on single PC.

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