Office 365 is an online subscription software suite which includes the Microsoft Office suite we are so familiar with, plus other cloud services. And since their February major overhaul, it is one of our favourite cloud solutions and has truly leapfrogged GoogleApps – Microsoft’s only competitor.

From a sales and marketing point of view, Office 365 may perhaps be the most complicated software ever released. Microsoft has so many 365 plans, it’s like the chemistry periodic table – there are eight categories plus other variations: Office 365 Home Premium, Office 365 University, Office 365 Small Business, Office 365 Small Business Premium, Office 365 ProPlus, Office 365 Midsize Business, Office 365 Enterprise and Office 365 Kiosk.

Where do we start? Well, for small business under 25 staff – there are two favours on offer. The first one is Office 365 Small Business ( P1). For $7.90 per user per month, you get:

Exchange Online is designed to work with Outlook to deliver corporate email functionalities such as shared calendars, shared contacts, customise inbox rules, public folders, mail control rules with support for multiple company domain names.  Your mobile device can be in sync with your Outlook at all time, and can be wipe remotely if you lose the phone or tablet. Overall, this mail component of Office 365 is already worth the investment

Sharepoint Online is essentially a web platform for your business to collaborate and share documents. Microsoft is true to say that it can improve business efficiency and productivity but it is quite complex and time-consuming to master.

Lyncs Online allows your business to hold online meetings over the web with Outlook integrated features such as multi-user video conferencing in HD, screen-sharing, and instant messaging.

Office Web apps delivers mobility to create and edit Word, Excel and Powerpoint office files via a web browser. It is somewhat slower than the desktop version but generally works quite well when the situation arise

Office Mobile Apps, like above you can use Word, Excel, and PowerPoint on mobile phones and tablets – but guess what? Your tablet and smartphone needs to be running Microsoft or Nokia Symbian.

In terms of online storage, each user receives 25 GB of mailbox storage and 7 GB of document storage space (Sky Drive Pro).

Whilst Office 365 can be accessed via a web browser, most users will prefer to use the desktop/offline version of Office on their computer. It is quicker, more convenience and more supported by other business applications.  Office 2007 or newer is supported; the Office 2003 or older are supported.

Alternatively, you can subscribe to the next plan which is Office 365 Small Business Premium (P2). It includes all above services, along with Office ProPlus, the desktop/off-line version of Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, OneNote, Access and Publisher. The monthly fee is $13.50 but the latest Office application is made available to you at all time.

So any downsides you need to know about?

There is a 25 user limit imposed on the Small Business plans.  Any shared user mailbox (e.g. Project XYZ) or a second ‘send-as’ mailbox is considered a separate user – this adds to the total and increase the monthly cost.  The next level plan, Midsize Business (M) support more users and allows up to 300 accounts.

Although Microsoft guarantees 99.9% uptime; the cheaper Small Business plans does NOT provide telephone support or any ticketed support.  Microsoft’s official statement is “Support for Office 365 is provided by a rich library of online resources including online help, articles, community support, and blogs”.   But from our general experience – the service which in Australia is delivered by Telstra (!) is generally quite good.  Customers who want technical support will need to sign up the Enterprise plans. 

For bsiness who are familiar with Microsoft Small Business Server, there are some differences. Firstly, many of administrative features cannot be accessed via the web interface; as these advanced features are designed for larger organisations who have administrators who can use the PowerShell console.  Secondly, the 365 Small Business plans does not work with Active Directory, which allows single sign-on, domain-controlled user profile and their server access permission will lose this functionalities.  Businesses who need this Active Directory integration will need to consider the more expensive Midsized plan (M, $16.50 per month which includes Office ProPlus) or Enterprise plans (E, starts from $12.70 per month).

Overall Office 365 is a good scalable solution for small business under 25 users who likes the idea of Online Exchange mail service, smart device synchronisation and other extra inclusions. For larger businesses or those who are familiar with Microsoft Small Business Server (SBS) should consider the Midsize or Enterprise plans.  If your business is interested in switching to more cloud services, we advocate anyone to upgrade to a business-grade Internet connection such as Ethernet or NBN connections.  Next month, I will discuss cloud and the ‘need for speed’

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