Buying Office 365 online: Office 365 – part one

Microsoft has arrived in the cloud business. But instead of partnering with licensed software products that are one-off purchases for users, the company’s latest retail venture is subscription services. The popular Office package has been available for years as a form of service software (SaaS). Licenses for the latest form of it, the subscription package Office 365, have been promoted considerably more than their other, more traditional sales methods. In fact, the classic software suite package in desktop-installation format has been pushed into the background. So what are the benefits of buying Office 365 in a cloud-based software format? And is it worth the investment for private users and business customers?

What is Office 365?

Since 2011, Microsoft has offered its productivity software as a cloud-based subscription model, under the brand name Office 365. This meant a big change for users: The renowned office program was no longer limited to a desktop installation – it could now be used in the cloud as what’s known as software as a service, or SaaS. This publishing model wasn’t exactly new, but for long-term Microsoft customers, it was certainly a new experience. Additional confusion came from other Microsoft programs, like Office Online and Office 2016, as well as the huge range of available license models. So let’s take a look at the differences between the various software alternatives, and give you an overview of the range of functions offered by Office 365 for private users and companies.

  • Office Online: Office Online is Microsoft’s additional licensed software versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and OneDrive in the form of web apps with a reduced range of functions. The individual applications are run in the web browser, and so work on a variety of end devices, regardless of which operating system they’re run on. The only actual requirements are a connection to the internet and a free Microsoft account.
  • Office 2016: the latest classic desktop installation of the Microsoft Office suite is known as Office 2016. Users can purchase this package using either a physical box set with the data on disks, or they can download a product key online. A purchase entitles the user to install the software for use on one device only. Unlike the Office 365 subscription model, Office 2016 isn’t automatically updated. If you need a new version of this work software, you’ll have to purchase it again.

Office 365 bridges the gap between the web apps that are offered as part of the Office Online package and the classic desktop installation that comes with purchase of the Office 2016 suite. Instead of this one-time purchase, users pay a subscription fee for the software. Subscribers receive unlimited access to all applications and functions in their corresponding subscription package for the entire duration of the contract. Users can access the Office 365 web interface in their browsers. This grants access to the Office Online apps.

Selected versions of Office 365 also contain a full, installable version of well-known Office applications, meaning you get access to the standard range of functions for the Office 2016 suite, but also other cloud service benefits, like online storage and internet telephony.

If a local version of the Office suite is included in the product range, users will also have access to a button on the web interface that allows them to download and install the product from the cloud onto any PC or Mac as well as onto mobile devices (Windows, Android, or OS X).

The term ‘cloud’ in this context refers to a web-based computer service which allows users to rent hardware and software resources from external providers, meaning you don’t have to purchase your own. Office 365 is based on this cloud technology. Data storage, computer processing, and software installation is all carried out on Microsoft servers at their computer center. This gives users the advantage of being able to use Office 365 services practically anywhere – all they need is an internet connection.

The downside of cloud-based software usage is that sensitive data in the form of e-mails, documents, photos, or videos is stored in external data centers. This means that users are forced to deal with the data protection terms and conditions as set by Microsoft if they want to use the service. If you’re using Office 365 for business purposes, then further steps, including a comprehensive data processing contract, may also be required.

A plan for every scenario

Microsoft offers subscription packages for their productivity software Office 365 in the form of ‘plans’. The computer company offers different plans for private users, businesses, educational institutions, government authorities, and charitable organizations, each of which with quite different applications and functions.

Office 365 for private users

The range of functions for Office 365 depends on your chosen subscription package – your chosen plan. For private users, the following Microsoft plans are available:

Office 365 Personal

The Office 365 Personal plan is aimed at individual users who want to use this productivity software on just one computer. With the purchase of this software subscription, gain acess to the programs Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, and Access in their updated, 2016 versions. These are available in the Office Online format via the web browser and can be installed onto a PC or Mac to be used as a desktop application. For tablet or smartphone use, take advantage of an optimized Office interface. All documents created can be stored and accessed offline. The subscription offers 1 TB of OneDrive cloud storage (Microsoft’s online storage solution) and 60 free minutes of Skype calls to local landlines and mobiles.

Price: A subscription to Office 365 Personal comes at either $69.99 a year or $6.99 a month.

Office 365 Home

Microsoft considers the needs of families and private users with several devices in its Office 365 Home plan. Subscriptions cover all the same applications and functions as the Office 365 Personal version, but can be used by up to five different people. All applications can be installed locally on up to five PCs or Macs. Additionally, up to five tablets or smartphones are supported, each with the productivity software’s optimized interface for mobile devices. Office 365 Home also offers each of the five users 1TB of OneDrive cloud storage and 60 minutes of free Skype calls.

Price: Buying Office 365 Home comes at a cost of either $99.99 a year or $9.99 a month.

The primary difference between the two Office 365 plans for private use lies in the number of supported users and installations. Office 365 Personal may be $3 cheaper a month, but only caters to one user, whereas Office 365 Home has up to five different user accounts covered – making it a worthwhile financial investment even for only two people. Both plans offer technical support via a chat system or over the phone. Another perk is that subscription model updates to newer Office application versions are included free of extra charge. This means that users can be certain of always working with the most up-to-date software.

Office 365 for business clients

It’s not just for private users that Microsoft offers diverse, tailored packages. Business customers have the option of one of several subscription models, designed to cover different sized businesses, from small-sized companies right up to huge office enterprises.

Office 365 Business Essentials $5.00 per user, per month for a monthly subscription
Office 365 Business $8.25 per user, per month for a monthly subscription
Office 365 Business Premium $12.50 per user, per month for a monthly subscription
Office 365 ProPlus $12.00 per user, per month for a yearly subscription
Office 365 Enterprise E1 $8.00 per user, per month for a yearly subscription
Office 365 Enterprise E3 $20.00 per user, per month for a yearly subscription
Office 365 Enterprise E5 $35.00 per user, per month for a yearly subscription

For a more detailed look at the different business plans available, please refer to the second part of our series on Office 365.

Office 365 for the U.S. government

Microsoft offers special packages for the authorities, known as Office 365 U.S. Government plans. These are basically the enterprise subscription packages of Office 365 that are available to businesses, but offered at a cheaper price. The requirement of a contract for this subscription, however, is fairly obvious: you have to prove that the software will be used by the U.S. government or affiliates. A full list of the accepted strands of government is available on the Microsoft Office 365 U.S. Government plan website.

Office 365 Enterprise E1 Government rates
Office 365 Enterprise E3 Government rates
Office 365 Enterprise E5 Government rates

Office 365 for schools, students, and teachers

Microsoft offers Office 365 plans for full or part-time students, high school pupils, and employees at schools and universities. The first plan of these, Office 365 University, offers qualifying users discounted access to Office applications for four years.

Office 365 University

The Office 365 University plan gives part and full-time students, faculty, and staff of qualified, accredited higher education institutions a full and installable version of the Office applications Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, and Access in their most recent versions. This subscription lasts for four years and is subject to proof of entitlement. If you qualify for Office 365 University, you’ll be able to install the Office interface on any two devices including computers (PC or Mac), tablets, and smartphones. You’ll also receive 1 TB of OneDrive cloud storage space, as well as 60 free Skype call minutes for contacting home phones and mobiles.

Price: $79.00 for 4 years (so roughly $1.65 a month)

Users who buy Office 365 University have to activate the software in order to use it. This activation requires online proof of eligibility for the program. The package covers universities, polytechnic schools, institutes of technology, and other higher education institutions, including colleges and vocational schools. Before purchasing Office 365 University, it’s worthwhile to check whether you can actually be covered for a free version of Microsoft Office through your educational institution.

Educational institutions that are recognized by the state, like schools and universities, have the opportunity to register with Microsoft and offer pupils, students, and faculty access to the following selected plans for the productivity software. These form the ‘Education’ product range.

Office 365 Education

Office 365 Education is basically an extended version of Office Online. Alongside the Office web apps Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote, pupils, students, and faculty receive access to 1 TB of OneDrive cloud storage space each, as well as the social network Yammer, and the web application SharePoint Websites free of charge.

Price: Free

Office 365 Education E5

The Office 365 Education plan E5 offers pupils, students, and faculty the full range of functions that private users and businesses receive, but at a discounted price – as long as they can prove they meet the requirements as a nationally recognized institute of education. Unlike the free variation, Office 365 Education E5 features fully installable versions of the popular Office applications Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Publisher, and OneNote, as well as a fully optimized Office interface for tablets and smartphones.

Price: A subscription for Office 365 Education E5 costs $6.00 a month for pupils and students. Teachers and faculty have to pay $8.00 a month.

The price for these education plans must be covered by the corresponding educational institutions. Pupils, students, and teachers then receive access to Office 365 via an official e-mail address provided by the institution (the school, college, or university).

Office 365 for nonprofit organizations

When considering charitable organizations, Microsoft decided to include a nonprofit product range. These plans are basically versions of the business and enterprise plans, but there’s a big price reduction on account of the products being for nonprofit organizations. Selected plans are available free of charge, working on a donation basis.

Office 365 Non-Profit Business Essentials Donation
Office 365 Non-Profit Business Premium $2.00 per user, per month
Office 365 Non-Profit E1 Donation
Office 365 Non-Profit E3 $4.50 per user, per month
Office 365 Non-Profit E5 $10.00 per user, per month

In order to receive one of these heavily discounted subscription packages or even a software donation, your organization will have to prove that you have a registered status as a charity in your home country.

All plans, including Business, Enterprise, Education, and Nonprofit, offer an active directory integration that makes it easier to manage user registration information and permissions. When it comes to critical problems, Microsoft offers around-the-clock web support for IT issues as well as support over the telephone. They offer a 99.9% guarantee of availability for all services.

Which applications do you get in Office 365?

Depending on the plan you choose, there are a number of different professional Microsoft applications available for your Office 365 subscription, covering document creation, spreadsheet calculation, presentations, and database management. The cloud-based productivity software also offers access to e-mail and groupware functions, a centralized data storage, as well as performance-enhancing tools for instant messaging, video conferencing, IP telephony, and screen sharing.

Numerous updates and features are exclusively reserved for the subscription model and require an Office 365 account. 

Word

Microsoft Word is the mother of all text editing programs. Office 365 offers subscribers the chance to create documents using the trusted Word interface. Depending on the plan you choose, you may end up with a simple web app with a reduced range of functions, a fully functioning desktop installation, or a version optimized for mobile devices. 

Unlike the version in the desktop suite Office 2016, this subscription-based version of Word offers professional document creation with a diverse range of cloud functions. An Office 365 account lets you connect to the cloud storage space OneDrive and the content management system (CMS) SharePoint. This allows you to manage documents centrally and give other users permission to read or edit them – allowing whole teams to edit documents in real time and directly exchange ideas in Word.

Excel

Microsoft Excel is the number one most used software worldwide for professional spreadsheet calculations. If you’re looking to organize, filter, format, analyze, or even visualize numerical or text-based data entries, Microsoft Excel is the standard solution. The program offers extensive data collection and mathematical functions – which can be used for commercial or statistical calculations, for example – an integral part of daily office life for many users.

As part of the Office 365 cloud service, Excel 2016 offers interfaces for OneDrive and SharePoint. This gives users the option of sharing Excel spreadsheets in a team and editing them together in real time. All that you need to enjoy this is internet access and a registered Microsoft or Office 365 account.

PowerPoint

Microsoft’s interactive presentation software goes by the name of PowerPoint. The program is based on a slideshow concept, where content in the form of text boxes, graphics, diagrams, and multimedia elements can be added to pages and ordered. Diverse design templates, shapes, diagrams, and smart-art elements can be customized, offering users a great amount of flexibility and scope for creativity. 

Subscriptions to Office 365 also include the PowerPoint Designer. This exclusive feature automates the creative process during presentation design, by suggesting a design idea for every new element you add. An Office 365 subscription also gives you access to the animation function Morph, which offers users extensive options for design and transition between slides. 

Source: Microsoft Office Videos YouTube Channel – www.youtube.com/watch

Just as with Word and Excel, Microsoft offers the option for central file management and synchronized collaboration with the 2016 version of PowerPoint, as well. This is all linked up to OneDrive and SharePoint, and requires a connection to your Microsoft or Office 365 account.

OneNote

OneNote is Microsoft’s digital notebook. Users can create notes with the software, organize them, and then share them with other users. Along with text entry via keyboard, OneNote also supports images, audio, and video files. If you’re using OneNote on a touchscreen device, you can make notes or drawings with a tablet pen or your fingertip. If content from other applications or from the internet is integrated into a note, OneNote automatically generates a link to the source.

As part of the Office 365 standard package, OneNote is linked to the cloud services OneDrive and SharePoint, allowing you to share and collaboratively edit notes with friends, family, and colleagues. All notes created are automatically stored and synchronized in the cloud, meaning that every user gets the most up-to-date file version on their device.

Outlook

Outlook is Microsoft‘s e-mail program and personal information manager (PIM). Users can manage e-mails, contacts, appointments, and tasks using this software. Businesses tend to use Outlook as a client for the Microsoft Exchange Server. If combined with Microsoft’s mail server solution, users receive additional functions, including absence assistance, mailbox releases, and replacements.

Outlook makes it possible to create groups to share files and notes with. If you use Outlook in combination with Skype for Business, you can make voice and video calls directly from the e-mail program. Thanks to the link to OneDrive and OneDrive for Business, you can also load attachments directly from the cloud and share them with friends, family, or business partners. 

Access

Access is Microsoft’s database management system for end users. The software combines the database engine Jet with an integrated development environment (IDE). This is available via a graphic user interface. You can use Microsoft Access to create user-defined database apps for desktop or web browser purposes without prior programming knowledge. All data in the back end is stored on SQL servers and the Microsoft Azure SQL database. The benefits of this are higher reliability, data protection, and scalability.

Thanks to professionally designed app templates with user-friendly interfaces, Access offers beginners a quick and easy way to get into database management. Experienced users can even use the program to create individual apps with ease.

Access Services, a component of the SharePoint server that is found in selected Office 365 plans, makes it easy to share Access applications. The client program and all Access functions can only be used in combination with a Windows PC. 

Publisher

Publisher is Microsoft’s version of desktop-based publishing software. The program offers functions that allow you to create professional printed publications, online presentations, or even websites – without the complexity of rival industry software, like Adobe InDesign or QuarkXPress. The program is simple and intuitive to use, making it suitable for beginners, while offering a variety of templates.

If you already have a registered Microsoft or Office 365 account, your presentations and other creations on Publisher will be stored automatically in the cloud and can be edited collaboratively and shared with links. Publisher is only available for Windows PCs. 

Planner

Planner is a project management tool for task management developed for Office 365. The software connects teams in the cloud and makes it easier for you to organize group work and collaborations. You can use Planner to create plans for projects and tasks, share these edits and suggestions, and fix appointments and deadlines. Statistics and graphic visualizations offer participants a readable overview of a project’s progress. And Planner can be used to communicate as a team too, while you can also link it up to other Office 365 applications. Planner users can access e-mails, documents, and files from the program in cloud storage. These functions establish Planner as an alternative to other similar products, like Trello or Asana.

Sway

Sway is a Microsoft Office suite web application used for digital storytelling. The software enables users to integrate text and multimedia elements from diverse sources like a private computer, the Bing search engine, the OneDrive cloud storage space, YouTube, or Facebook into interactive presentations. Sway projects – also known as ‘sways’ – can be edited in the web browser, played directly, and also shared online with friends, colleagues, or business partners. All you need is a shared link in order to load presentations from the Microsoft servers, and you can play them in your browser without logging in or registering.

Exchange Online

Exchange Online is Microsoft’s cloud-supported alternative to the popular groupware and mail server software Exchange Server. While the classic Exchange Server operates as an on-premises software, Exchange Online is a subscription model that means the server software isn’t locally stored, but rather in the Microsoft data center – meaning this model is aimed at small or mid-sized businesses without their own IT infrastructure. Exchange Online is part of the Office 365 Business Premium plan as well as the Enterprise plans E1, E3, and E5.

OneDrive and OneDrive for Business

OneDrive is the name of Microsoft’s cloud storage platform. Microsoft users are entitled to 1 TB or cloud storage on the Microsoft central servers as part of the Office 365 Home, Personal, and Education plans. Subscribers to Office 365 have the chance to store documents, photos, and other data files centrally, and to share them with other users for collaborative editing. Meanwhile, synchronization options allow you to make certain OneDrive folders available offline.

OneDrive for Business is an extended version of the online storage space designed for business use. User accounts for OneDrive for Business are available in the Business and Enterprise plans for Office 365 and are made available for staff and colleagues through the company. Unlike the standard OneDrive, employee accounts aren’t private – they’re managed by the system administrator of the company or organization. This means that companies are able to offer employees different access rights to files in the cloud. Company data is secured by further encryption and compliance functions in OneDrive for Business, and each user has access to 1 TB of storage space.

Both versions of the Microsoft cloud storage device can be integrated into other Office applications like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or OneNote, meaning that users can access files from these corresponding programs in real time in the cloud.

Skype and Skype for Business

Skype has been a feature of the Microsoft product range since 2011. The free online service supports instant messaging, video conferencing, IP telephony, and data file transfers, as well as screen sharing, and is available to users via a browser or as a separate application program. While internet calls between different Skype users is free of charge, calls to landlines or mobiles incur small costs. This is calculated in the form of a tariff per minute.

The Office 365 plans Home, Personal, and University all offer 60 Skype telephone minutes per user at no extra cost. These minutes can be used for calls to over 60 different landline locations, and mobile calls can be made to a number of different countries too, including within the US, UK, and Canada. But unused free call minutes expire at the end of the month and can’t be carried over. Skype users also have the option to purchase a contactable landline number for their Skype account, meaning that they can also receive calls from traditional landlines and mobile networks.

While the free version of Skype’s online service is aimed at private users, the self-employed, and small businesses, Microsoft’s Skype for Business focuses on bigger clients. Skype for Business increases the number of people that can be connected in an online conference, and also offers companies increased security functions as well as a central management of employee accounts. This extended version of Skype can also be embedded into other Office applications like Outlook. Skype for Business is available in selected Business and Enterprise plans for Office 365. 

SharePoint Online

SharePoint Online is a cloud-based alternative to the SharePoint Server, a software that lets users create and manage team and project-oriented websites for internal collaboration. SharePoint Online functions as a content and document management system, and offers an intranet portal for the internal publication of information and news for employees. Colleagues can create online websites, blogs, or discussion portals with SharePoint, allowing them to make content available centrally for anyone to edit.

Unlike SharePoint Server, this online version, which has a reduced core functionality, doesn’t require local installation and setup – instead it’s hosted on the Microsoft central server. This is an advantage for small and medium-sized businesses, as it means they don’t need to purchase and manage the necessary infrastructure for this service.

SharePoint Online is available in all Office 365 subscriptions, with the different individual plans determining the variety of SharePoint functions available. A detailed overview of this can be found in the SharePoint Online Service Description.

When it comes to meeting the security and compliance requirements of a company application, SharePoint offers flexible management options to define common guidelines and rules for all processes and all employee devices involved, meaning you can make sure that everyone in your company knows company policy.

Yammer

Yammer is Microsoft’s take on a social network for business use, designed to promote open collaborations within teams and lead to employee discussions in a central location. Yammer allows you to create and organize internal employee networks, as well as external networks for collaborations with clients and business partners.

The service is available in two versions: Yammer Basic and Yammer Enterprise. An overview of the available functions of each of these two versions can be found in the description of the Yammer service and functions. Yammer Basic can be activated free of charge and can be integrated into other Office applications to increase functionality. Yammer Enterprise is only available as part of selected Business, Enterprise, and Education plans.

Tags: Windows

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