Microsoft has made some major changes in the way it offers Office. If you’re feeling a little cloudy about it, you’re not alone. Here is a little more information to help clear things up.
If you’ve heard the term “software as a service,” this accurately describes Office 365. Instead of buying a box of software from the store or an online portal, you subscribe to a service that not only gives you the software as a download, but other services like cloud storage, shared calendars and voice-over-IP (VOIP) phone services. Free trials are available for most versions.
For individuals, there is Office 365 Home Premium, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Access and Publisher. You can install software on up to five PCs or Macs and up to five mobile devices. The package also includes Skype (VOIP phone service) and SkyDrive (cloud storage). The cost is either $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year. While you can still purchase Office traditionally (Office Home & Student, Office Home & Business, Office Professional 2013), it will only include one installation and exclude most of the bundled services.
The options are more varied for business. The core Office applications are available in the following plans: Office 365 Small Business Premium (up to 25 users), Office 365 Midsize Business (up to 300 users), Office 365 Enterprise E3 & E4 (unlimited users). All but E4 offer a free trial. The differences begin with Midsize Business. At this level, there is no Active Directory integration. Features like Information Rights, legal hold capabilities, e-discovery tools, hosted voice and BI tools are only available with the Enterprise versions. You can even replace your current PBX with Microsoft’s integrated Lync Server 2013 voice and call features with E4. Monthly per user prices range from $12.50 to $22.00 per month.
The biggest advantages of Office 365 vs. the stand-alone versions are portability and device independence. You can start a document on an Android phone in the Office 365 app and complete it from, say, a Windows 8 Ultrabook. Later, you can access it from a Windows 7 machine running a different version of Office from SkyDrive.
Companies that haven’t been able to justify an Exchange or SharePoint Server can now have the capabilities of both without the overhead of managing servers. Staying up on the latest versions won’t be a problem either. You can access the latest version without buying a new box or taking the time to install it.
Is there any downside? It is really an own vs. lease decision. We’ve been doing that with virus software for years. Other software giants like Adobe also are moving in that direction. If you only use a couple of applications, have no need for sharing or collaborating and don’t need much storage, Office Home & Student at $139.99 might be a good choice. Power users who are used to having every Office application at their disposal will be paying $399.99 for the stand-alone version. The more users you have, the more Office 365 is worth considering.
Note for Excel 2010 power users: If you currently use the PowerPivot add-in in Excel 2010, it will only be available for Office 2013 with the Enterprise versions or as stand-alone Excel 2013.
Contributor: Melissa P. Esquibel, Microsoft® Certified Trainer
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