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 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.

How much should I spend on a PC?

This is not necessarily a question we get asked that much, but I do have some thoughts about this. This is going to sound slightly controversial, but most of the time, spending big money on a PC (or laptop for that matter) is often driven by ego (assuming the computer is for work rather than playing games). Not spending enough is driven by a poor notion of perceived value.

Well, where do we start?

The first thing to ask is what the computer is going to be used for. The amount of processing power in recent years has grown so much, that most PCs can run most business applications without breaking into a sweat. If you are doing typical office work, such as using Outlook (email), the other Office applications and surf the internet, then a good mainstream PC shouldn’t need to cost more than, say, £350. HP, Dell and a few others make good basic machines with an Intel Core i3 (Intel’s mainstream) processor, 4GBs of RAM, a decent sized hard drive and Windows 7 or 8 Professional. A good 13” laptop of a similar spec will weigh in at about £450.

HP Desktop

PCs costing less than this tend to be running “Home” versions of windows, or there are other areas scrimped on such as RAM (you don’t want to have less than 4GB these days), processor or the size of the hard drive (although not generally a concern unless you have a massive iTunes library!).

If you are more of a power user (and I’d say those in finance or graphic design fit into this category), then you should aim to spend around £500. At this price point you’ll get a really good bit of kit with an Intel Core i5 (think performance) processor, 4-6 GB of ram and possibly a  bigger hard drive.

Laptops are a slightly different equation as the more you spend (generally) the lighter, slimmer and sexier it is. Not necessarily more powerful but if you travel a lot, then the trade-off between weight and performance may well be worth it. These tend to be at the £800 upwards price point. These can also have features such as SSDs (solid state drive) which are essentially much faster hard drives with no moving parts and therefore  more robust if you travel a lot. HP Spectre Ultrabook

You may also need to budget about £180 for a copy of Office 2013 (and the really terrible licensing model Microsoft have adopted with this) plus a bit of time to get it set up and working smoothly. Generally there is a small amount of disruption with an upgrade such as this as some shuffling of data as well as the PC itself but good planning can avoid much of this.

Spending any more than this is generally not necessary. Core i7 sounds good – it is the top of the range after all, but unless you are using Adobe Creative Suite (and you may well be better off on a Mac in that case) or an Architect using Autocad 2013, these are best left to the gamers who can make the most of the performance.

The last thing is how long you should expect it to last? A later blog will explore the cost of technology in the workplace, but realistically you should be expecting a lifecycle of about 3 years – the machine will slow down over this time, the hard drive will be reaching the end of its reliable life (although they can fail at any time). Unless covered by warranty, it’s never cost effective to repair a PC over 18 months old either, as the cost of fixing almost always exceeds the replacement cost.