Microsoft Office 365 is a suite of subscription-based software services that requires monthly or periodic payment of fees. Even though it provides cloud integration to the traditional suite of Office 20XX applications, it’s a distinctly different product. Office 365 largely consists of cloud-based services and the deluxe E3 plan includes a subscription to the new suite of Office Professional Plus 2013 desktop applications. In essence, Office 365 offers the new Office 2013 suite for a $20 per month/user monthly subscription fee in lieu of the $XXX, disc/downloadable/key-based versions that we have all come to know and love (or not). You can also use Office 365 with older versions of Office (2010 and limited functionality with 2007) or even without Office on your PC via the use of Web-based Office apps.
Depending on the subscription plans detailed below, all Office 365 plans also include a mix of subscriptions to hosted (cloud) versions of Microsoft’s Server products (e.g.: Exchange Server, SharePoint Server, and Lync Server) that are delivered and accessed over the Internet.
These services provide Office 365 with cloud storage and collaboration (SkyDrive, SharePoint) for your Office 20XX applications and are available from many mobile devices via the Web browser of any PC. In other words, your data travels with you from PC to mobile device to PC. Once documents are uploaded or created in SkyDrive or SharePoint, you can open and edit (E3 plan only) any office-compatible files from within Web versions of Office applications from within an approved PC Web browser (Firefox, IE and Chrome–see “System Requirements” below) and some mobile Web browsers (with varying degrees of success).
If you’re still running Windows XP, you’re out of luck because that OS is not supported by Office 365. Moreover, if you want to install and run Office Professional Plus 2013, it only works with Windows 7 or 8.
Mac users are handcuffed in a somewhat different manner: they must purchase a new version of Office for Mac 2011 because you cannot use an existing Office for Mac 2011 installation, as one of the five licenses available with a subscription to an Office 365 plan. On the other hand, if you have a Windows version of Office 20XX installed on your PC, you can freely integrate it with your Office 365 subscription.
Got it? We hope so, but you must read on because Office 365 also offers additional cloud, Web site, e-mail, messaging and collaboration features that can be somewhat complex.
Microsoft Exchange Online
Outlook e-mail, calendar, and contacts are delivered as a cloud service and hosted by Microsoft. The service is based on Microsoft Exchange server and provides ActiveSync for mobile connectivity to Exchange services and mobile e-mail applications.
Microsoft SharePoint Online
This is a collaboration, sharing, and document editing service using internal and external Web sites. It can also be used to create a public Web site.
Microsoft Lync Online
This provides communications features, including online presence information, instant messaging, PC-to-PC audio/video calling and online meetings that can include PC audio, video and Web conferencing with application sharing, whiteboards, and other collaboration tools. Lync Online is accessed through a Lync client that also is available for mobile devices. Lync Online also supports online presence information and click-to-communicate features inside of the Office Professional Plus 2013 and Web-based Office applications.
Office Professional Plus 2013
This provides the same client software as the Office Professional Plus product available through Microsoft Volume Licensing, and features month-to-month, per-user licensing. It can be installed from the Office 365 Admin panel via Microsoft Online Services.
Office Web Apps
This consists of Web browser-based versions of Excel, Word, and PowerPoint that enable viewing and lightweight editing of Office documents in Web browsers while preserving the formatting of the original documents.
For a video overview of the basics of Microsoft Office 365, click here.
Next: Plans and Pricing