Office 365 is the brand name Microsoft uses for a group of software and services subscriptions, which together provide productivity software and related services to subscribers. For consumers, the service allows the use of Microsoft Office apps on Windows and OS X, provides storage space on Microsoft's cloud storage service OneDrive, and grants 60 Skype minutes per month. For business users, Office 365 offers plans providing e-mail and social networking services through hosted versions of Exchange Server, Skype for Business Server, SharePoint and Office Online, integration with Yammer, as well as access to the Microsoft Office software.

After a beta test that began in October 2010, Microsoft launched Office 365 on June 28, 2011,[2] as a successor to Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite (MSBPOS), originally aimed at corporate users. With the release of Microsoft Office 2013, Microsoft expanded Office 365 to include new plans aimed at different types of businesses, along with new plans aimed at general consumers wanting to use the Office desktop software on a subscription basis—with an emphasis on the rolling release model.[3]

History

Microsoft first announced Office 365 in October 2010; beginning with a private beta with various organizations, leading into a public beta in April 2011, and reaching general availability on June 28, 2011. Facing growing competition from Google's similar service Google Apps, Microsoft designed the Office 365 platform to "[bring] together" its existing online services (such as the Business Productivity Online Suite) into "an always-up-to-date cloud service" incorporating Exchange Server (for e-mail), SharePoint (for internal social networking, collaboration, and a public web site), and Lync (for communication, VoIP, and conferencing). Plans were initially launched for small business and enterprises; the small business plan offered Exchange e-mail, SharePoint Online, Lync Online, web hosting via SharePoint, and the Office Web Apps, with the enterprise plan also adding per-user licenses for the Office 2010 Professional Plus software and 24/7 phone support.[4] Following the official launch of the service, Business Productivity Online Suite customers were given 12 months to plan and perform their migration from BPOS to the Office 365 platform.[5]

With the release of Office 2013, an updated version of the Office 365 platform was launched on February 27, 2013. The server components were updated to their respective 2013 versions, and Microsoft expanded the Office 365 service with new plans, such as Small Business Premium, Midsize Premium, and Pro Plus.[6] A new Office 365 Home Premium plan aimed at home users was also introduced; the new plan offers access to the Office 2013 suite for up to five computers, along with expanded OneDrive storage and 60 minutes of Skype calls monthly. The plan is aimed at mainstream consumers, especially those who want to install Office on multiple computers.[7][8] A University plan was also introduced, targeted towards users going to post-secondary education. With these new offerings, Microsoft began to offer prepaid Office 365 subscriptions through retail outlets alongside the normal, non-subscription-based editions of Office 2013, which, in comparison, are only licensed for use on one computer.[9]

On March 19, 2013, Microsoft detailed its plans to provide integration with the enterprise social networking platform Yammer (which they had acquired in 2012) for Office 365: such as the ability to use a single sign-on between the two services, shared feeds and document aggregation, and the ability to entirely replace the SharePoint news feed and social functionality with Yammer.[10] The ability to provide a link to a Yammer network from an Office 365 portal was introduced in June 2013, with heavier integration (such as a Yammer app for SharePoint and single sign-on) to be introduced in July 2013.[11]

On July 8, 2013, Microsoft unveiled Power BI, a suite of business intelligence and self-serve data mining tools for Office 365, to be released later in the year. Power BI is primarily incorporated into Excel, allowing users to use the Power Query tool to create spreadsheets and graphs using public and private data, and also perform geovisualization with Bing Maps data using the Power Map tool (previously available as a beta plug-in known as GeoFlow). Users will also be able to access and publish reports, and perform natural language queries on data.[12][13] As a limited time offer for certain markets (but notably excluding the U.S.), Microsoft also announced that those who purchased an Office 365 Home Premium or University subscription before September 28, 2013 would receive a free one-year Xbox Live Gold subscription.[14]

In March 2014, Microsoft announced that it would rename the "Home Premium" plan to "Home", and add a new "Personal" plan for single users; these new options officially launched on April 15, 2014.[15][16]

In June 2014, the amount of OneDrive storage offered to Office 365 subscribers was increased to 1 terabyte from 20 GB.[17] On October 27, 2014, Microsoft announced that Office 365 subscribers would receive "unlimited" OneDrive storage.[18] Due to abuse and a general reduction in storage options implemented by Microsoft, the 1 TB cap was reinstated in November 2015.[19]

In June 2016, Microsoft made Planner available for general release. It is considered to be a competitor to Trello and to other agile team collaboration cloud services.[20]

Features

The Office 365 service consists of a number of products and services. All of Office 365's components can be managed and configured through an online portal; users can be added manually, imported from a CSV file, or Office 365 can be set up for single sign-on with a local Active Directory using Active Directory Federation Services.[5][21]

Outlook

The email service, task management, calendar application, and contacts manager included with business and enterprise Office 365 subscriptions are under the Outlook on the web brand. It includes Outlook Mail, Outlook Calendar, Outlook People, and Outlook Tasks.

Microsoft introduced an email feature called Clutter with Office 365. Clutter remembers user's preferences as it comes to the relevance and importance of emails. It analyses user's pattern of behavior about email topics, if user keeps ignoring emails about a certain topic, Clutter moves those emails to a folder with the same name in Outlook. Users can manage enablement/disablement of this feature by logging on to Office 365 portal.[22]

Hosted services

Business and enterprise-oriented plans for Office 365 offer access to cloud-hosted versions of Office's server platforms on a software as a service basis, including Exchange, Skype for Business, SharePoint, and the browser-based Office Web Apps suite.[2] Through SharePoint's OneDrive for Business functionality (formally known as SharePoint MySites and SkyDrive Pro, and distinct from the consumer-oriented OneDrive service), each user also receives 15 GB of online storage.[23][24]

In lieu of Microsoft's enterprise software, Home plans for Office 365 include premium enhancements for Microsoft's consumer-level online services, including 1 terabyte of OneDrive storage for each user,[19] along with 60 minutes of phone calls per month on the Microsoft-owned Skype VoIP service.[3]

Office applications

Some plans for Office 365 also include access to the current versions of the Office desktop applications for both Windows (Office 2016) and OS X (Office for Mac 2016) for the period of the subscription. In the case of Office 2016 on Windows, it is installed using a "Click-to-Run" system which allows users to begin using the applications almost instantaneously while files are streamed in the background. Updates to the software are installed automatically, covering both security updates and major new versions of Office.[3][8][9][25] If an Office 365 subscription expires, editing functionality in the Office software is disabled (read-only mode) until a new subscription is purchased and activated.[26]

Access to the Office Mobile apps for Android and iOS devices (including both smartphones and tablets) were originally limited to Office 365 subscribers[27][28][29] but basic editing and document creation has since been made free for personal use. However, Office 365 is still required to unlock certain advanced editing features, use the apps on devices with screens larger than 10.1 inches, or to use the apps for business use.[30][31][32] Outlook Groups was also made available as an app on Windows 10 Mobile.

Updates

The Office 365 platform uses a rolling release model; updates to the online components of the service are provided once per quarter. On launch, the 2010 versions of server components were used with Office 365. These services were automatically upgraded to their Office 2013 counterparts upon its release in February 2013.[10] With the introduction of Office 2013, Office division head Kurt DelBene stated that minor and incremental updates to the Office desktop software would be provided on a similarly periodic basis to all Office 365 users by means of the streaming system, as opposed to the three-year cycle for major releases of Office that had been used in the past.[10][33]

Microsoft began to deploy Office 2016 in September 2015.[34]

Office 365 Education

Office 365 Education, formerly Office 365 for Education and Microsoft Live@edu, is a free suite of hosted Microsoft services and applications that is intended for educational needs.[35]

The program provides education institutions with a set of hosted collaboration services, communication tools, and mobile, desktop, and web-based applications, as well as data storage capabilities. The suite includes Microsoft applications for collaboration including: Office Live Workspace,[36] Windows Live SkyDrive, Windows Live Spaces, Microsoft SharedView Beta, Microsoft Outlook Live, Windows Live Messenger, and Windows Live Alerts.[37]

The suite is part of Microsoft Education Solutions. With the Microsoft Live ID, the student can sign-in and access multiple Microsoft applications such as Outlook Live, Windows Live Messenger, Windows Live Spaces, Windows Live SkyDrive, Windows Live Mobile, and others. Universities, colleges, and schools can enroll in the program through a free registration process.[38]

In 2012, Live@edu moved under the umbrella of the Microsoft Office 365 service. The former Outlook Live Answers portal, a forum for asking questions on the Live@edu service, was discontinued on December 17, 2012. Transition was intended to be complete by September 2013.[39]

Security

In December 2011, Microsoft announced that the Office 365 platform was now compliant with the ISO/IEC 27001 security standards, the European Union's Data Protection Directive (through the signing of model clauses), and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act for health care environments in the United States. At the same time, Microsoft also unveiled a new "Trust Center" portal, containing further information on its privacy policies and security practices for the service.[40][41] In May 2012, Microsoft announced that Office 365 was now compliant with the Federal Information Security Management Act: compliance with the act would now allow Office 365 to be used by U.S. government agencies.[42]

In spite of claiming to comply with European data protection standards, and in spite of existing Safe Harbor agreements, Microsoft has admitted that it will not refrain from handing over data stored on its European servers to US authorities under the Patriot Act.[43]

Being a cloud computing service, there can be service outages, like there was on June 23, 2014 of Lync instant messaging service and of Exchange email service the next day, June 24, 2014 over multiple hours.[44]

Plans

Office 365 is available in a number of different subscription plans aimed at different needs and market segments, providing different sets of features at different price points.[45][46][47] These include:

  • Personal: Includes access to Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft PowerPoint, Microsoft OneNote, Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Publisher & Microsoft Access for home/non-commercial use on one computer (PC or Mac) plus access to premium features on one tablet (Android, iOS or Windows RT full Windows counts as a computer) or phone. Additional benefits include 1 TB of additional OneDrive storage and 60 minutes of Skype international calls per month (subject to area).[48][49] A version of Personal purchased on a discounted four-year plan, known as Office 365 University, allowing use on two devices by one user, is available for those in post-secondary institutions.[50] Microsoft has also offered Office 365 subscriptions to students of institutions who have licensed Office software for their faculty.[51][52]
  • Home (formerly Home Premium): Aimed at mainstream consumers and families; same as Personal, but for use on up to five devices by up to five users.[3][53]
  • Business Essentials (formerly Small Business[54]): Offers access to hosted Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync services only.[55]
  • Business: Offers desktop apps for both Mac and PCs for up to five computers per user.[55]
  • Business Premium (formerly Small Business Premium):[53][54] A combination of Business Essentials and Business plans.[55]
  • ProPlus: Offers access to the Office 2016 Professional Plus applications for up to 25 users on up to five devices per user.[56]
  • Midsize Business: Aimed at businesses with 10-300 employees. Offered access to the Office 2013 applications from ProPlus, plus hosted Exchange, SharePoint, and Skype for Business services.[56] No longer available.
  • Enterprise: Intended for use in enterprise environments. Offers access to all Office applications, hosted Exchange, SharePoint, and Skype for Business services, plus enterprise-specific legal compliance features and support.[4][53]
  • Office 365 operated by 21Vianet: Microsoft has licensed 21Vianet to provide Office 365 services to its China customers. Microsoft does not operate Office 365 in China instead 21Vianet does. The service differs in features from the service offered elsewhere.[57]

Comparison

Comparison of features per licensing plan[58][59]
FeatureOffice OnlineBusiness
Essentials
Enterprise
E1
PersonalHomeBusiness
Premium
Enterprise
E3
Enterprise
E4
(discontinued)
Exchange
Online
Plan 1
Subscription
Payment termsFreePer user
per month
Per user
per month
Monthly
or annual
Monthly
or annual
Per user
per month
Per user
per month
Per user
per month
Per user
per month
Number of users licensedUnlimited25Unlimited15300[60]UnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited
OneDrive storage per user5 GB1 TB1 TB1 TB1 TB1 TB1 TB1 TBNone
Software
WordNoNoNoYesYesYesYesYesNo
ExcelNoNoNoYesYesYesYesYesNo
PowerPointNoNoNoYesYesYesYesYesNo
OneNote DesktopNoNoNoYesYesYesYesYesNo
OutlookNoNoNoYesYesYesYesYesNo
PublisherNoNoNoYesYesYesYesYesNo
AccessNoNoNoYesYesNoYesYesNo
Skype for BusinessNoNoNoNoNoYesYesYesNo
InfoPathNoNoNoNoNoNoYesYesNo
Office Online appsYesYesYesYesYesYesYesYesView attachments only
Services
Exchange ServerNoYesYesNoNoYesYesYesYes
Skype for Business ServerNoYesYesNoNoYesYesYesNo
Yammer EnterpriseNoNoYesNoNoNoYesYesNo
Public websiteNoYesYesNoNoYesYesYesNo
File storage and sharingNoYesYesNoNoYesYesYesNo
Intranet site for teamsNoYesYesNoNoYesYesYesNo
Active Directory integrationNoYesYesNoNoYesYesYesYes
Site mailboxesNoNoNoNoNoYesYesYesNo
Office mobile appsNoNoNoYesYesYesYesYesNo
Advanced emailNoNoNoNoNoNoYesYesNo
eDiscovery CenterNoNoNoNoNoNoYesYesNo
Self-Service-Business IntelligenceNoNoNoNoNoNoYesYesNo
VoicemailNoNoNoNoNoNoYesYesNo
  1. Windows only

Reception

TechRadar gave the 2013 update of Office 365 a 4.5 out of 5, praising its administration interfaces for being accessible to users with any level of expertise, the seamless integration of SkyDrive Pro into the Office 2013 desktop applications, and the service as a whole for being suitable in small business environments, while still offering "powerful" options for use in larger companies (such as data loss protection and the ability to integrate with a local Active Directory instance). However, the service was panned for how it handled its 2013 update for existing users, and its lack of integration with services such as Skype and Yammer.[21]