Microsoft Office 365 review

Office heads for the cloud, but does it send productivity sky-high?

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Our Verdict

Office 365 is a simple and cost-effective way to get access to new features in desktop Office 2013, but Microsoft still has to prove it can offer meaningful improvements on a regular basis. Smaller companies will appreciate its reliability and interface, but there are powerful options for larger ones too.

For

  • New administration interface
  • New features on Sharepoint and Exchange Online
  • App model for Outlook add-ons
  • Simple and cost-effective plans

Against

  • Wait for upgrades for existing users
  • Does not take full advantage of Skype
  • Lacks integration with Yammer enterprise social networks.
  • This article is being regularly updated to reflect the ever-evolving nature of Office 365.

Microsoft has been busy in recent times with Office 365 and the two newcomers, Office for Windows 10 and Office 2016, both scheduled to go live sometime later this year.

Office 365 will likely keep its name and could be joined by Windows 365 as Microsoft will apparently add a subscription option to Windows 10, and it has trademarked that name. Amongst the flurry of features added to Office 365 in recent times, the ones worth highlighting are:

Microsoft acquired Sunrise, a popular calendaring app for touch devices, which is likely to be incorporated into Office 365. Calendaring has been one of the areas where Microsoft hasn't devoted as much resources as many would have expected especially with the rise of mobility.

Microsoft also bought Acompli (which it almost immediately turned to Outlook), LiveLoop for to prep ip PowerPoint and 6Wunderkinder for its popular to-do-list application.

The company also announced that it was giving away 100GB of free storage for a year to existing Dropbox users to lure them away from the popular cloud storage provider – which incidentally is a close Microsoft ally.

That bonus is on top of a 100GB giveaway of OneDrive storage for two years if you subscribe to its Bing Rewards scheme. Your files will be read only after the subscription ends unless you buy a top-up and if you want to get a cheap one, Ebay seems to be the place to go with plenty of deals available for Microsoft Office 365 Personal available for less than £40.

Okay, let's move on to the most recent developments over the past couple of months. Microsoft recently announced that it has updated Office 365 for Exchange Online, so that users will no longer have their emails automatically deleted after a period of 30 days. Previously, deleted items were shifted into the Deleted folder before disappearing from there after 30 days, but the new update allows the system admin to change this period to a different length, or simply to set all emails to be kept indefinitely.

Also on the email front, Microsoft has just updated Office 365 to allow users to send email attachments which are far, far bigger than was previously possible. In fact, attachments can now be six times as large, with the new size limit being 150MB (whereas Office 365 users were limited to 25MB before – that said, note that the 25MB limit will remain in place unless the administrator actually changes things).

Video content is an arena Redmond is moving to cover with its subscription Office suite, as well, with the creation of the Office 365 Video portal that allows businesses to distribute videos internally. This is a free additional service which is currently in the process of rolling out globally for Office 365 enterprise users, in order to provide a fully integrated solution for video sharing within an organisation with security in mind. Office 365 Video employs an HTML5 player so it can work across all devices from mobiles to desktop computers, although Microsoft is also producing an app for iPhone users.

Furthermore, Redmond has bolstered Office 365 with the addition of mobile device management (MDM) again free of charge, at least for those on commercial plans. System admins will be able to use these features to manage access to data over a range of devices and platforms, from smartphones upwards and on Windows Phone, Android and iOS.

This will put in place measures such as the detection of jailbroken devices, and will allow for security policies to be set up to ensure that certain business emails or documents can only be accessed on approved devices. A selective wipe feature will strip corporate data off a device running Office 365, without touching any personal data on said piece of hardware.

Another major move on the security front which has only just happened is Microsoft and Samsung's announcement of an agreement, following settling their legal arguments over Android, whereby a version of the Office 365 suite will come to Samsung's Knox. In other words, Excel, Word, PowerPoint, OneNote and OneDrive for Business will be included wrapped up in the Knox container.

Redmond has also just changed things with Office 365 so that documents can now be exported in the Open Document Format (ODF), to bring the suite in line with UK government guidelines on document sharing.

OneDrive

The month of November 2014 saw four important Office 365 related announcements from Microsoft:

- Lync will be rebranded as Skype for Business in a few months' time in what can be seen as a deliberate attempt by the company to unify its communication offerings. At one point, Microsoft had five communication, collaboration and sharing tools (six if you include Office 365) and it does make sense for them to consolidate. Surprisingly, back in April, Microsoft's Giovanni Mezgec, the GM for both Skype and Lync told TechRadar Pro that Microsoft would continue to be separate services, one for enterprise and the other for consumer. Clearly, something convinced Microsoft that this was not the right path to follow. It's worth nothing that Microsoft also plans to integrate Skype in Internet Explorer.

- Microsoft also released Office apps for iPad and iPhone for free with a preview for Office apps for Android coming up. You will need to have an Office 365 subscription to make the most out of it but that's not compulsory. Microsoft confirmed that the apps would still offer core Office editing experiences, similar to what you get when using Office.com online, with more advanced ones available to premium users. Embracing that strategy will allow Microsoft to stem the flow of users embracing Google Apps by providing them with a reasonable, functional alternative.

- Another big announcement was a new Work and Play bundle that offers Office 365 Home, Skype Unlimited World+Wifi, Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Music Pass for $199, rather than its suggested retail price of $450. Oddly enough, Microsoft chose to make it available in the US in its stores only and to end the promotion early January. Although the deal is clearly geared at a consumer audience, expect Microsoft to try more of those cross-platform promotions to increase the number of subscriptions.

- The Redmond-based company also penned a strategic partnership with popular online cloud storage specialist, Dropbox, which will allow more than 35 billion Office documents to be edited by Office users from within the Dropbox mobile app. Microsoft's Onedrive competes with Dropbox but it is nowhere near in terms of adoption. Dropbox reached more than 300 million users in May 2014, just six months after it hit the 200 million user mark.

At the beginning of October 2014, Microsoft bundled its Dynamics CRM Online and Power BI offerings with Office 365, delivering a package called Microsoft Dynamics Sales Productivity. The new package includes Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online Professional, Power BI for Office 365 and Office 365 Enterprise E3 for £42.79 ($65 in the US, not available yet in Australia).

The rate card price of the former stands at £40.50 per month per user while that of Power BI tops £13 PMPO and Office Enterprise E3 costs £14.70 PMPO. So you're looking at a saving of more than 37% (or roughly buy Dynamics CRM Online Professional and get Power BI and Enterprise E3 for - almost - free). Some serious competition to Salesforce.

Late in the same month, Microsoft announced that OneDrive would offer unlimited storage for anyone using Office 365. It already allows users to upload 10GB files (that's more than two DVDs worth of content) at a time.

That even includes Office 365 Personal, the cheapest Office subscription at $6.99 per month ($69.99 for a year or as little as £46 in the UK), Home and University customers. Business customers will get that update early next year and so should students that have enrolled on the free Office 365 for Students (currently available for any student aged 13 or above).

The rest of the review is on the next page...