Microsoft Office 365 Review: The Apps You Know & Much More

Don’t let the familiar name fool you: Microsoft Office 365 Small Business Premium (SBP) isn’t just another bundle of the company’s desktop productivity applications. It’s a suite of on-premises, cloud-based and mobile tools that let you share and connect with colleagues and customers.

Office 365 productivity software

Figure 1: Office Online has the same look, feel and features of the desktop version, so Office veterans don’t need to learn anything new.

In addition to the word processing, spreadsheet, email, and presentation programs you expect, this suite of small business productivity software and services also includes online storage and collaboration features; communication tools to handle email, IM and videoconferencing, and tools to build your website. The integrated approach lets you go with one vendor and pay one (reasonable) monthly bill, while giving you access to your files anywhere from just about any device.

The heart of Office SBP is, of course, the applications themselves. For each employee you sign up you’ll receive a license key for the desktop version of Office 365. Each registered user will also have a Microsoft account login that gives him or her access to the cloud version of the application suite—Office Online. Registered users can download the mobile Office apps for viewing and editing documents on Windows Phone, iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Symbian OS smartphones and tablets.

Office 365: Getting Started

Figure 2: The Getting Started pane guides you through the steps to get you and your employees going with Office 365.

Your subscription also includes access to Microsoft’s OneDrive for Business (formerly called SkyDrive Pro), a cloud storage/collaboration service with 25GB of online storage for each employee. For group collaboration, Office 365 SBP also delivers the cloud-based Team Sites service with 10GB of baseline storage plus 500MB of storage per employee.

The suite also includes both access to Microsoft’s Lync service for HD videoconferencing and website hosting—complete with tools and customizable templates to build your site. The total cost for all of these services: $15 per employee per month (or an annual payment of $150 per user, which works out to $12.50 per month).

Microsoft Office 365 Setup and Management

If you are going to commit to Office 365 SBP, you’ll want to set aside a couple of hours to set up and configure its various parts. Microsoft makes it as easy as possible, with a handy “Getting Started” panel on the main management page that outlines the tasks: Downloading Office 2013 and any desired mobile apps, setting up email, setting up the suite’s collaboration features and building a website.

Office 365: Management menu

Figure 3: For subsequent administration of Office 365 SBP, simply visit the proper area on the Management page.

Each of those choices leads to subsequent pages that break down the chore into digestible step-by-step chunks, and video tutorials give you an overview so you know what to expect before you get started. The videos and other instructions are jargon-free, and they assume that you don’t have a background in IT.

Your organization will also have a designated administrator—the first person who sets up an account under your subscription—for ongoing management. Again, that chore is made more palatable by a straightforward “Manage your organization” page that provides links to various settings.

Clicking on Service Settings brings you to page where you can manage features such as shared calendars, team sites, shared contacts (including whether to allow sharing of Facebook and LinkedIn contacts), spam filtering, mobile access and passwords. The Users & Groups area lets you add or delete people from your subscription. The Domains link leads you to the tools to manage the domain for your email and website; while the Website link lets you manage and edit your public site. There’s also a Support link, where you can create and submit a service request should you need it.

Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing addresses the technology needs of small businesses, which are defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees and/or less than $7 million in annual sales.

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