Discover whether it is right for your business.
Microsoft has done a great job of taking its office suite into the cloud with Office 365. It has focused on making the move to the cloud as seamless as possible.
And yet the software vendor has also made it unnecessarily complicated, with a handful of licensing plans which restrict access to features.
Is Office 365 right for your business? The answer depends on what you think is most important. Below are eight of the best reasons to buy Office 365, and eight reasons to walk away.
Documents and spreadsheets sent in the latest Microsoft formats can show graphs and fonts incorrectly or not at all in Google Apps. Office 365 guarantees that all Microsoft Office documents will be displayed in the correct format with no missing information.
Many businesses run on a stack of Excel spreadsheets. Google’s spreadsheet application is not as full featured as Excel and can’t run Excel macros. Businesses that don’t want to spend the effort changing the way they run don’t have to with Office 365.
3. No retraining
Everyone knows how to use Microsoft Office. Office 365 adds the benefits of cloud without staff needing to learn new ways of doing things. This means less time and money spent on retraining.
4. Co-operation with Microsoft desktop software
Office 365 has been designed as an extension of the Microsoft Office desktop software. The level of cooperation or integration between Office 365 and Microsoft Office is excellent and vastly improves the ability of workers to share documents and information without overhauling work processes.
5. Greatest number of features
Microsoft Office is still miles ahead of any other office suite, whether it’s making sales documents with impressive layouts and graphics in Word, running multiple-sheet spreadsheets in Excel or creating presentations with all the bells and whistles in PowerPoint. Apple’s iLife suite is closest but Google Apps comes a very distant third.
Office 365 introduced the world to Lync Online, a communications platform that looks like a Microsoft version of Skype. It can make voice and video calls to other staff members and potentially people outside your business; share the application you have running on your computer with others over the internet; and hold phone conferences with other callers on landlines, mobiles or PCs, among other things. It’s a powerful tool that could be incredibly useful to many businesses.
7. Website templates
Office 365 includes SharePoint Online, a program that helps staff share information and create internal and external websites. SharePoint Online comes with a big library of templates that make it very easy to set up a professional-looking site for managing a project.
8. Easier administration
Microsoft put a lot of effort into making the small business version of Office 365 easier for the business owner to manage. With a little training and guidance, a business owner should be able to look after their own staff for managing email, websites and so on.
Next page – the dealbreakers for Office 365
1. Licensing complexity
Office 365 comes with seven plans with varying restrictions. Business owners will have to decide on what features each employee requires and buy a plan to match. Extra licences are required for accessing SharePoint sites. This creates a licence management headache as employees get promoted, change roles, are hired or fired.
The two top plans in Office 365 are more than eight times the price of Google Apps, from $40.15 per month for the E3 plan. The E3 and E4 plans are the only ones that have access to all features in Office 365.
3. Tied to desktop software
Businesses can’t get by with just Office 365. They will need to buy both the cloud (Office 365) and desktop (Microsoft Office) versions. This is not just expensive but means businesses still have to worry about upgrading and patching their desktop software, which adds cost, effort and security risks.
4. Small business plan limited to 50 users
Microsoft says that its small business plan is for businesses with up to 25 users, though the P1 plan will actually extend to 50 users. Add one more staff member and you have to upgrade. The definition of a small business seems to have shrunk since Microsoft sold Small Business Server, which was licensed for up to 75 users.
5. No upgrade or mixing with small business plan
The P1 plan for professionals and small business, which has restricted access to features, cannot be mixed with enterprise licences. There is no easy upgrade to the enterprise plans – the upgrade requires data to be migrated by an IT services company.
6. Mac unfriendly
Office 365 works best with the Windows Explorer internet browser which isn’t available for Macs. There is no Lync Online client for Macs either, and it is very difficult to use Office 365 from an iPhone or iPad. (Edit: Microsoft says it will release the Lync Online Mac client later this month and that Office 365 fully supports Safari and Firefox browsers on the Mac.)
7. Mobile unfriendly
Not only does Office 365 work poorly with the iPhone and iPad, the experience is not much better on Android tablets and smartphones. Of course the suite works best with smartphones running Windows Phone 7, but the majority of users are either on Apple or Android. This is a big drawback when mobility is a key advantage of cloud computing.
8. A closed ecosystem
Microsoft has not been very open in allowing other companies to develop programs that connect with Office 365 and the Office desktop suite. Compare this to Google, which advertises a Google Apps marketplace of hundreds of applications made by other companies. Microsoft argues that programs work better if they are made by one company, but the net result is less choice for the customer.
For more advice on choosing between Office 365 and Google Apps, see our buyer’s advice page for productivity suites.