Microsoft Office 365 offers cloud computing with a number of affordable plans for businesses of all sizes. It’s a major overhaul for the recognized platform which a multitude of firms already rely on and the business packages in particular aim to make file sharing and collaboration easier in the workplace.
Microsoft needed to make big changes after the poor reception of Windows 8 and the rise of free alternatives like Google Drive. Office 365 needs to find the right balance between advanced features and solid performance if Microsoft can expect business owners to keep paying up. So what does 365 offer?
Office 365 for business.
Small businesses have a number of options available that start at £3.10 a month per user. This gets you 365 Business Essentials, which only covers the online Office Apps, 1TB of cloud storage and 50GB space for emails. Moving up the ranks is Office 365 Business that comes with Word, Excel, Powerpoint, OneNote, Outlook, Access, Publisher and Lync. The difference is you can download all of these apps on up to five PCs or Macs per user.
Office 365 Business Premium combines the Business and Business Essentials into a single package.
Larger companies will be better suited to Office 365 Enterprise, which includes all the features of Office 2013 with added protection and security features. It also comes with Yammer integration for businesses with social collaboration needs and the option to buy the Project Online service. Office 365 Enterprise E3 costs £14.70 a month per user with an annual commitment upon sign-up.
Performance and usability.
Moving Office to the cloud is a big step for Microsoft, but with new technology you normally have to accept bugs and performance issues. And although the first editions of Office 365 aren’t flawless, Microsoft has done incredibly well to make the transition so smooth.
The biggest frustration with Office 365 is OneDrive online, where performance can be patchy. The online application doesn’t always load first time and the file sharing functions aren’t as intuitive as you would like. Much of this carries over to the web apps too and even creating a Word document online can be sluggish for older or lower spec devices.
It’s a little frustrating, but not a major blow unless you rely on the web apps for your workflow. Take things offline and Office 365 does everything you need it to and more. The native apps work as you would expect but the offline OneDrive app makes sharing files from devices a breeze and you rarely need to use the online apps to create documents. What they do allow you to do is open files on devices that don’t support Office so you can view, share and even edit them – ideal for Android devices in business meetings, for example.
What’s the verdict?
The Office 365 business packages are incredible value – especially with Lync, SlideShare and Exchange Online bringing a host of features that help businesses create and share content more effectively. Performance isn’t perfect, but it’s an impressive first effort from Microsoft and the subscription process means you’re always inline for updates.