[This article was first published in our Synergy2014 conference magazine.]
Microsoft Office. Many of us know it as an almost intrinsic part of our daily computing experience. Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook – these four applications are what traditionally define Office. We variously love and hate these applications, yet over a billion people rely on them on most business days.
Office 365 is the latest version of Office and it has taken flight as Microsoft’s fastest growing commercial product of all time. So what is Office 365, what does it offer and how does it work? To answer these questions we spoke to Microsoft Australia’s Office 365 consumer specialist Nicole Robinson about Office 365 Home Premium edition.
Spot the difference
Nicole Robinson is the senior product marketing manager for Office 365 at Microsoft Australia. She says we (consumers) have been on the Office 365 journey for just over 12 months.
“We’re used to buying a boxed product of Office which could be used on one PC or Mac,” Nicole says.
“Traditionally the PC refresh cycle has been around three years. We’re starting to see that change to four to five years which is growing longer as consumers take on more and more mobile devices.
“Office 365 as a subscription and web service product means consumers no longer need to buy an updated product every three years, or when they update their hardware.”
What is apparent is that consumers are taking on an ‘app’ mentality with their software — productivity tools and applications are downloaded and updated automatically, not unwrapped and installed. It’s an expectation largely driven by an almost seismic shift to mobile.
In response to this, Office 365 has been developed with three distinct differences that “talk to the ‘why’ of consumers choosing to opt-in to a subscription product” and the value of being a subscriber.
The first big difference, Nicole says, is that one Home Premium subscription can be used across five PC’s or Macs, Windows tablets and phones and other smartphones.
“For the first time you can share your software with your household or family members,” Nicole says.
“The subscription allows for five computers or tablets and, in addition, those users will also be able to use the apps on their Android or iOS mobiles.”
Windows phones don’t count as an install as those devices come preinstalled with the Office 365 apps as standard. Microsoft recently announced it will also be extending the apps to non-Windows tablets in the near future with improved ‘touch first’ versions of the core applications.
This offer of five computers or tablets recognises the trend of households having multiple devices. Nicole points to a recent study by Telstra that showed, on average, each Australian household has six internet connected devices, not including gaming consoles.
Anyone who has kids in school or university will recognise the benefit of rolling Office 365 onto those machines from a single subscription.
Services, not products
The second difference is what Nicole calls the ‘services story’. This is things like web-based versions of each Office application subscribers can access through a browser, no matter what device they’re using (internet café, friend’s computer, tablet, etc); and additional Skype minutes you can use to call Australian landlines and select international and mobile phones.
A significant benefit is that whoever the subscription is shared with will also get an additional 20GB of OneDrive storage (OneDrive is Microsoft’s cloud storage solution, formerly called SkyDrive). Cloud storage is becoming more important, if not an expectation, as it enables people to get work done, share things like calendars, shopping lists, budgets, family photos, and so on.
The storage per subscription is capped at 100GB, but this is still a good amount compared to other cloud storage offerings on the market – Dropbox and Box, for example – that only offer storage, not a full productivity suite.
Up to date
The third, and arguably most significant, difference is that of the Office suite always up-to-date. An Office 365 subscriber no longer relies on a three year purchase cycle (or longer for some consumers and businesses), but automatically gets all the updates as they’re made live.
Nicole says there were more than 100 updates made to Office 365 in the first six to nine months of it being available.
Out of the box
In the old days consumers bought Office in a box with a CD and product key. You’d install the software, enter the product key and off you go on that machine.
If you buy Office 365 in a shop today you will still get a box, just not as big and without the CD. You then download the applications from Office.com, the portal you will also use for managing subscriptions and monitoring which devices you have installed it on.
In a departure from the traditional desktop version, an Office 365 Home Premium subscription comes with access to seven applications – Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Publisher and Access. Previously consumers would need to stump up a hefty $599 for the retail version of Office Pro to get this range of applications.
One of the critical differences is the addition of web applications you can use on mobile devices, or any online computer for that matter. This provides the ability to stream Office on demand.
“Any Office 365 consumer gets access to Office on Demand,” Nicole says.
“Functionality is really good online… it’s not quite the full application capability, but it’s very comparable to what’s on your desktop.”
In other words you won’t be crunching data with any pivot tables in Excel online, but you’ll be able to work with everyday spreadsheets, presentations, articles and emails through the Outlook web app.
Office 365 Home Premium is not intended for commercial use – there are key differences with the enterprise version of Office. SharePoint, Exchange, Lync, Visio and Yammer all come into play in enterprise versions This makes managing things like corporate emails easier with Exchange now a simple web app, and multi-office collaboration easier with SharePoint.
It also means a business doesn’t have to buy more versions of Office when scaling up with staff.
Office 365 is the fastest selling commercial product in the history of Microsoft. It seems users like the subscription and service concept and are flocking to the new, yet familiar, Office.
Is this the future for your home and business?