Office 365 – Everything you need to know!

A little while I wrote a piece about choosing which edition of Office 2013 to get. Judging on the number of questions I get about Office 365 there seems to be some misunderstanding as to what it actually is.

O365 Logo

Many people see it as just a different way of getting the Office desktop software on their computer and paying monthly rather than buying a copy outright.

It’s not. It’s much more than that.

In a nutshell, Office 365 is Microsoft’s collective brand for their SaaS (Software as a Service) or Cloud portfolio. It comprises of a number of different elements, of which the key ones we will explore here.

Exchange Online

This is Microsoft’s Hosted Exchange service – rather than having your Exchange Server on a server in your office this is where your email is provided as a service. Key benefits are no server, no need to worry about backup and very high uptime or availability.

SharePoint with Office WebApps

SharePoint is an interesting one. In some respects it can be considered as a document management system, but really it fits in to the Intranet/Extranet space and allows you to publish documents, shared content etc to both internal and external parties. Additionally, it also comes with Office Web Apps which is essentially a cut down version of Word, Excel and PowerPoint which will allow you to edit documents within the Browser without having to have the applications installed locally, or needing to download the document before editing (which you still can if you want).

Lync

Lync is an internal communication system a bit like Skype except it’s a bit more private. It will link into your Outlook calendar so other people in your directory can see if you’re in based on your diary (it will also change to away if you’re away from your desk for a while) and there is a mobile app that you can have on your iPhone.

Office Professional Plus

The desktop software is the normal Office 2013 we already know. However this is the subscription version and (if you have it) will link in to your SharePoint site so you can access documents on your SharePoint site.

Additionally you can add things like Dynamics CRM online and other applications such as Project Professional and they will integrate in to your overall Office 365 package.

Do I need it?

It often depends on what you want and how you operate as a business. Personally, if you want a nice wrapped up solution that can provide a significant amount of your business technology in one place then I think it’s ideal. If you like running the very latest version of Office and other applications then it’s also ideal from a software lifecycle perspective and allows your entire organisation to be on the same version.

The big catch is that support from Microsoft directly is very limited and rely on Cloud Partners, such as us, to provide the skills in developing, implementing and supporting businesses using 365 as a platform.

If you’re giving it some thought and ready to start moving services in to the cloud then please get in touch to talk about this or any other Cloud services you might be considering.

Office 2013 or Office 365 – Which one should I get?

So this year saw the launch of Office 2013 and at the same time, Microsoft went all out with their SaaS (Software as a Service) offering – Office 365.

Office 2013Now on the face of it, both appear to be the same thing – one is a boxed copy of Office that you buy outright (roughly £180) and the other is a copy you pay £10 per month per user for.

O365 LogoSo you think…hey – this monthly thing sounds good. But wait, after 18 months it’ll cost me more than if I’d bought the product outright. So why would I want to subscribe?

They are not the same.

For some unknown reason Microsoft saw fit to change the licensing model of Office with the 2013 editions. Previously there was the ability to install (using the same license) a copy of the software on a laptop as long as it was in use by the same individual. Now the license is for one machine and one user. Microsoft originally even decided that once installed on a computer it was tied to that machine too, but backtracked after enough people complained that they’d need to buy another copy if they ever changed their PC.

The second massive change is the method of licensing the software. Instead of supplying a DVD and a key (for install and subsequent activation), with the boxed software you have to go through this convoluted process of setting up a Microsoft ID, entering the key from the box to register, then go to the download page and get a different key to then use to install the software. This is ok if there is just one of you, but if you have (say) 20 copies and want to be able to manage them, then you’re stuck. If you thought you could set up one Microsoft account to manage all of these licenses you’d be mistaken. There is no way to identify individual copies of the software and you’ll find yourself screaming when you can’t tell which key was used on which computer. Microsoft know this and admit it’s a problem but are not forthcoming with a solution. Arrrggghhhhh!

Not OK

In reality Office 365 is a bit more than just a subscription to Office 2013. We’ll explore that when we look at cloud computing but in this instance we’ll just look at the Office Suite itself.

Office 365 is licensed per user; currently each subscriber can install/use the software on 5 devices. So you can install it on your work desktop, work laptop, work tablet and home PC, as well as access it on your mobile device via Office Web Apps. Now if you are, like a great many, a user of several machines, then this makes financial sense, as ordinarily you’d now need to buy a copy of the software for each machine that you use. That could get quite expensive.

The other great thing about Office 365 is that as long as you continue to subscribe you are able to use the most current versions of the software. Availability of the latest version via 365 is not as rapid as via the retail or licensing channels but then you don’t have to pay extra for the privilege. And in any case, you possibly don’t want to be installing the latest version until a few months have passed or when you’re in a position to upgrade all your machines at the same time.

Lastly it is an easy way to standardize the software in your business and fix your software spend on a monthly basis. It also removes software from the PC upgrade cycle cost.

There is one big BUT of course. To use the software you have to continue to pay. If you decide at some point you don’t want to continue with it the software on your computers will stop working and you’ll need to either go out and buy the software, re-subscribe or license via other means.

It won’t surprise me that in the next edition or two, this will be the only way to use the Office suite of applications – the world is moving towards more subscription based models – the mobile phone companies have been doing this for years quite successfully and is now a proven model and indeed tends to tie in customers for the longer term.

So is Windows Phone 8 any good?

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It was with a feeling of trepidation that I decided to ditch Apple’s iOS after having been an avid iPhone fanboy since the beginning. I loved the simplicity, wealth of apps and the solid design. So why change?

I found myself in the Apple trap, where you feel compelled to get the latest and greatest just because it’s new. However, each edition tended to only bring small improvements and change, and after upgrading from a 4 to 4s I started to feel a little jaded by the whole thing.

So having seen Windows Phone 8 arrive, I decided to make the jump and try something new. Having used Windows 8 on my desktop , I figured it would make sense to try for a more seamless experience. At the time the HTC 8X was an o2 exclusive and the Nokia (https://www.o2.co.uk/shop/phones/nokia/lumia-920/) was a Vodafone exclusive so on a wet and cold December evening, I tromped off to the o2 store and bought a shiny new HTC 8X (https://www.o2.co.uk/shop/phones/htc/windows-phone-8x/). Everyone said I’d hate it and would be back to my iPhone in less than a week!

Now, as an aside, the guy in the o2 shop was amazing! I was determined to change phone, but he also managed to switch me on to a more appropriate tariff as well (saving £25 per month!).

So first thoughts – the Interface is simple and friendly. Windows Phone uses “Tiles” on the home screen – these can be dynamic and show you bits of content (such as the weather, or News for instance). Applications not on the home screen are all grouped together in a list (which can get quite long) but you can click on the Search item and lookup). Typically you’ll put your most useful or favourite Apps on the home screen in any case.Windows 8 Home Screen

Setting it up was easy – as it’s essentially Outlook on the phone, setting up my Exchange email account was a breeze, as was getting it connected to my SkyDrive (if you use Office 365 that’s equally easy to set up). Apps are installed via the “Store” App (and you’ll see a distinct lack of Apps compared to Android and Apple – more on that later) and is a fairly simple and straightforward exercise. I’ll admit to not having purchased any Apps so I cannot comment on what that experience is like.

Apps

Anyway, to ensure my commitment to this new phone, I cleaned up my iPhone 4s and gave it to my mum (who promptly fell in love with it – but that’s another story!) and off I went in to this brave new world.

And you know what? It was ok. Some things took a bit of getting used to, and I missed some Apps (most notably the Barclays banking App) but after a week, it was starting to fit quite nicely in to my life. As a fairly simple user, my demands were not high, but it pretty much did what I needed it to and in a very easy and simple way. No fuss, no bother. It just worked. The limited choice of Apps did initially bother me, but new ones are arriving all the time, and it’s altogether possible that there is too much choice on the other platforms. It’s worth being aware that certain Apps are unlikely to appear any time soon, such as Banking and perhaps other manufacturers (such as BMW) will probably not find the investment in creating Apps for Windows Phone worthwhile.

And so time passed by, and the recent announcement of iOS 7 and (invariably) another evolution of the iPhone prompted me to think about my phone and write this little piece about it. Will I go back to an Apple iPhone? Possibly, although it would need to be pretty compelling considering the high cost of the phone and most likely very minor changes from the 5. The Nokia Lumia 925 (https://www.o2.co.uk/shop/phones/nokia/lumia-925/) is a very nice looking Windows phone (the camera in the HTC is rubbish – The Nokia camera is significantly better) and if I was in the market for a new phone that’s what I’d be getting.

With the imminent release of 8.1 it’ll be interesting to see what that brings although I suppose Windows Mobile 8.5 or 9 will bring the more significant change (and perhaps I’ll be bored of it by then and ready to jump into Android)!

 

 

Feeling Blue?

It seems like just yesterday that we were assaulted with Windows 8, and yet the release of its first major update – Windows Blue – is rumoured to be just around the corner.

Things are still very much at the rumours stage, as Microsoft have yet to make any official announcements about Blue (that’s it’s working codename, incidentally, rather than its official title), but here’s a brief roundup of the bits and bobs that have been unearthed so far.

Spoiler alert: don’t get your hopes up. It’s more Windows 8.1 than Windows 9 we’re talking about here, so really just little tweaks added on top of what’s there already.

  • You’ll be able to split your full screen apps 50/50 on the screen with other apps, instead of the somewhat limiting 75/25 restriction at present

  • You’ll get Internet Explorer 11 (Eric’s excited, the rest of us use Chrome)

  • And you might, you just might, get the start button back (although early suggestions seem to imply that it won’t give you back the old-skool “Start Menu”).

  • You might also be able to boot directly to the desktop, rather than the Start screen

And, yeah, that’s about it so far. It’s getting a lot of press for something so seemingly underwhelming, but frankly that’s more because of what it represents than the actual features it’s touting.

So, what’s the real deal then? Well, the process Microsoft is currently going through marks a significant deviation from their previous update process.

In the past, a major version of Windows (XP, Vista, 7 etc) would be released, followed up with minor updates and then a big “Service Pack”. Then another year or two of minor updates, then another Service Pack. Typically each version of Windows would see two Service Packs before starting off the whole process again with a new version of Windows.

The shiny new update model revolves around a series of more frequent updates, more akin to the Apple way of doing things. Apple have been rocking “Mac OS X” for 12 years now (!), issuing a series of updates along the way to bring us up to the latest 10.8 (“Mountain Lion”). Each update represents a series of changes based on the previous iteration, but nothing so major as to require much of a learning curve (although if you were to hop even from 10.4 to 10.8, you’d find it a slightly strange world).

Whether Microsoft will charge for an update to Windows Blue is, as yet, unknown. If they do I should expect it to be around the £20 mark, as has been the case with Apple’s most recent updates. Instinctively I feel as though even £20 will seem steep to a lot of people (remember, Windows 8 has sold 100 million licences) – especially given the freshness of this departure from their previous update model – but by the time Windows “Green” is released in 18 months or so, people will be pretty well used to it. It’s amazing how quickly people adjust these days.