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Microsoft Office 365

Long gone are the days where the Microsoft Office package simply meant the four main programs – Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. Nowadays, there’s a plethora of services and programs that fall under the Office 365 banner. Microsoft is now distinguishing themselves from the pack when it comes to a business cloud service, and their new features are consistently adding that something extra to their brand.

Personal Office 365

When you consider purchasing an Office 365 subscription, you can choose between either the personal or business versions. The personal version offers the Office desktop applications with email, cloud storage, and Skype minutes. If you want to begin editing documents in Office from an iPad or mobile application, then you definitely need an Office 365 subscription.

The personal version of Office 365 is for a single version, one download on one machine only. It’s great value if you intend to share it with the family and everyone uses the same computer. The home premium option seems a better choice if you would like each person in your family to have their own installation of Office on their computer.

Another bonus of Office 365 is that you can get any software updates or new versions on the same subscription. Additionally, the subscription is available for students at a heavy discount that extends to use on two PCs.

Business Office 365

There are several tiers for business versions. The basic Office 365 for Business offers Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, OneNote, Access, Publisher, and Lync. The Premium version combines the Business tier and the Business Essentials tier, allowing for all of the applications to use, plus email management and online storage.

So, depending on your needs and the services you want, you can always choose a plan that is tailored to you. It won’t be hard to find one that suits your business perfectly. The Office apps receive regular updates, so you’ll never have the problem of any computer in your office running outdated software.

Updates of Office 365

Due to the subscription-based nature of Office 365, the desktop applications (in particular Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) get new features on a regular basis with no hiccup in service. Word has recently received a spelling checker that uses computer engineering to understand and read your particular writing style.

PowerPoint, in particular, has gained several new features, one of which is the growing compilation of transitions. These new, special transitions operate as a designer tool that creates new looks, allowing a unique style that you can use repeatedly for your presentations.

The enterprise version of Office 365 has also provided Microsoft the opportunity to experiment with some new features in server products like SharePoint. SharePoint allows you to chat and communicate while collaborating on documents that are stored in OneDrive. This service may well be worth testing if you are interested in Office 365 Enterprise.

How to get started

As is standard with Office products, you manage the Office 365 service mainly through your browser. The admin portal, as it’s called, has been through a redesign that may prove to become the standard by which the service is managed.

The new and improved menu has 10 sections for monitoring the Office 365 service. Each section goes straight to the area that you need and has allowed newer services like ‘Groups’ to have a greater share in the system.

The new portal brings together all of the security services found across the Office 365 service, even allowing admin users to choose how spam is handled. On the negative side, it can be annoying that each portal still opens in separate tabs. It would be much better for users if they could be opened within the same window and move to the new portal design. The mix of the newer and older interfaces are complicated and are certainly a place for improvement within the service.

Importantly, setting up Office 365 is quick and easy, only taking a few minutes to setup. The wizard walks you through the entire setup, meaning you won’t be left clueless. The wizard even helps you to connect to the domain you are using for email. Setting up users is also simple, you simply need to connect to your active directory by importing details. Alternatively, you can just create users one at a time. There’s additional work that needs to be done if you want to have emails from other services imported into the service, and of course additional time that is required if you’re a large business to set up customized options, but the setup is pretty self-explanatory and certainly won’t take an expert to get you started with Office 365.

Managing Skype for Business

If you’ve been using Skype for Business for a while, you’ll know that the portal for communications was notably minimal, with very few settings possible to change. But as Skype has gained more features, user have more options to control. Skype for Business can connect to your personal Skype, allowing you to have full control over the integration.

You can use Skype for dial-in conferencing, so users can phone in rather than using the online client. You can set the defaults for both the privacy in Skype and the notifications that you receive. The admin center for Skype for Business also provides you with help for sorting out issues with the platform directly.

To sum up, the Skype integration found in Office 365 makes it a great choice for businesses looking to close the gap between customers and partners without the cost of international phone calls. However, to get a lot of these services you do need to buy some of the separate add-ons.

Managing Exchange

Since the 2013 version of Exchange was released, the online Outlook service offers the same features and interface as the Outlook client.

The admin center is packed full of features. They are organized into a vast set of categories, allowing the previously limited tasks to be completed much easier and in a simpler fashion. Not only that, but a wizard within the program guides you through the important steps when doing certain things for permissions and the like.

The style of Exchange is a minimalist design. It is well organized and attractive; however, it doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the new Office 365 portal, something we anticipate that they will update with the next version. It’s still a tad confusing when users are accustomed to being on the portal all day to find that one of the key features is designed differently.

The Exchange portal is useful for managing everything, and the Office 365 admin portal continues to be improved with updates, so it might not take any time at all for the changes we’d like to see to take place. At the end of the day, Exchange remains one of the best features of Office 365.

OneDrive

Both services, OneDrive and OneDrive for Business, now have much more similarities than they used to have. OneDrive is the consumer’s cloud storage, giving its users 5GB free of space and the option to purchase extra if need be. If you’re using the Home, University or Personal Office 365 packages, then you’re already fortunate enough to get an extra 1TB of space. OneDrive for Business is the cloud storage service that’s part of the business plans, and each user will either get 1TB or 5TB, depending on what package you’ve purchased.

Office 2016 has excellent integration with OneDrive, no matter if you’re with a business or personal plan. You have the accessibility to browse all of your online folders and save anything that you require in order to access your data from anywhere at anytime. The range of storage options inside Office 365 may seem convoluted at first, but once you grow accustomed to the layout, you’ll be thankful for the increased security and options at your disposal.

Our final verdict

We believe that, for many users with newer machines, Office 365 is the best way to buy Microsoft Office. You receive all the latest features and applications that come with the Office desktop apps, with a small monthly fee.

For users that may not like the idea of a monthly fee at first, we often find that the assurance of frequent updates and the security of a cloud service that is becoming more useful are often what convinces customers that this is the right option for their needs. We do want to emphasize, however, that you pick the right plan for your needs. You wouldn’t want to short-change yourself or pay less initially but end up with limitations.

In this article, we highlighted a few of the things that we like in the Office 365 suite. Our first recommendation is the new admin center, which is new and improved and certainly mitigates many of the issues we used to have with the services being hidden. Further, Exchange is easily one of the best business email services to be found, and Microsoft continually gets the functionality just right. OneDrive is an excellent storage option for users.

Although some of the interfaces can be confusing convoluted, Office 365 is a reliable and efficient service that manages to integrate desktop applications, email, collaboration, and conferencing within one service. It is simple enough for individuals and businesses alike to manage, and the benefits are certainly worthwhile.