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What is Office 365?

As we roll out our new blog, I think a good place to start is to explain precisely what Office 365 is. I find that there is entirely a bit of confusion out there about Office 365. Let me start by telling you what Office 365 is not. It is not the next major release of the Office desktop suite of applications (Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, etc.). The Office suite is just one component of Office 365. 

I like to describe Office 365 as an ecosystem which is made up of three main components: 

  1. Office desktop suite of applications 

  2. Office mobile applications 

  3. Office 365 cloud applications 

All three pieces work together in harmony to provide a single, comprehensive platform for collaboration and communication within your organization, as well as with external users, as appropriate. Let us take a closer look at each of the three components. 

Office Desktop Suite 

Chances are you have been using the Office desktop applications for many years now. The current release is Office 2016. My understanding is the next major release will be Office 2019. There is nothing particularly unique about using the Office desktop applications, except for the way in which they interact with the rest of the Office 365 ecosystem.

One thing that is important to understand about using the Office desktop applications as part of your Office 365 subscription. You need to have an active Office 365 account to access the Office applications. Therefore, if you cancel your Office 365 subscription, you will lose access to the local Office desktop apps. You will then have to procure a traditional desktop license to continue using Office. 

Another important feature of using Office with an Office 365 subscription is that you can download new update releases at your discretion. Microsoft releases Office updates on a frequent basis, so there are multiple versions of Office 2016 in existence. Most of the updates are incremental. 

Office Mobile Applications 

Anyone can download any of the Office mobile applications for Android, iOS or Windows from the apps stores for free. The issue is that to have any legitimate functionality with the mobile apps; you need to have an active Office 365 subscription. 

The more popular Office 365 mobile apps are listed in the figure below. What you get with the mobile apps is a "light" version of all the traditional Office desktop apps. By that, I mean that they have a more limited feature set. However, the feature sets are more than adequate for the types of things you would want to do with the apps on a mobile device. For example, you cannot create a pivot table on the Excel mobile app, but you would not want to do that anyway. 

Office 365 Flow Chart


The mobile apps rely heavily on the two primary cloud-based storage applications in Office 365: SharePoint and OneDrive. Any files you store in these apps can be accessed from the mobile apps and will update for any edits made so that you will have immediate access to the current files on your PC or from the Office 365 cloud apps. 

Office 365 Cloud Applications 

The cloud apps mimic the mobile apps. In fact, when you launch the mobile apps they become a gateway to the cloud apps from your mobile device. What makes the cloud apps unique is that you access them through web browsers. So you can go to virtually any device that is connected to the internet and log in to your Office 365 account to get direct access to all of the cloud apps.

The two main cloud apps are SharePoint and OneDrive for your file storage. That means that you have total access to all of the Office applications and your data files directly through a browser on any device. In future blog posts, we will take a "deep dive" look at all of the apps in the three categories described here, so that you can develop a complete understanding of how the entire Office 365 ecosystem works in harmony. 

Office 365 Subscription Licensing 

What makes Office 365 unique from a licensing perspective is that it is subscription based, meaning you pay monthly. There is a multitude of subscription plans to choose from, ranging in price from $6 to $35 per user. The good news is that you can mix and match the subscription plans by individual so that you can manage your licensing costs more efficiently.

Visit the Microsoft website for a complete list of the features included with each plan. Be sure to research each option carefully, so you know what is involved. You do have the opportunity to change plans for any individual on a month to month basis. You can upgrade or downgrade as necessary. 

If you want to learn more details about Office 365, you may want to consider attending one of these webinars. Click the link for a complete description and schedule of presentations. 

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