What is Office 365 (2016)

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Office 365 products
You may have been hearing the term Office 365 around your office or maybe you have been seeing it as the subject of online articles, but what is Office 365 exactly? This post is designed to give a general overview of what Office 365 is for individuals and business in 2016.
Simply put, Office 365 is a subscription to Microsoft’s Office productivity suite. There are many different Office 365 plans; however, they fall into two categories. These main categories are plans for individuals/families and plans for organizations. Any person or organization can go to Office.com and sign up for an Office 365 plan. What you get and what you pay will vary widely depending on which plan you choose.

Is there a plan for me and/or my organization?

Yes. Microsoft has Office 365 plans for: individuals, families, educational organizations, governments, small decentralized businesses, huge traditional corporations, and everything in between. From the smallest plan to the biggest they all offer access to Microsoft software and/or services related to productivity.

Plans for individuals and families

The smallest plan is Office 365 Personal for $6.99 a month (or $69.99 a year). For this price you gain access to the most up-to-date desktop Office programs (PC or Mac), 1TB of OneDrive storage, and 60 minutes of Skype calling. This plan is perfect for anyone who uses the Office programs on one or several devices because documents can be stored locally and synced using OneDrive. This plan makes financial sense for the 1TB cloud storage alone since the same amount of space is $8.25 per month on Dropbox and $9.99 per month on Google Drive.
The only other plan for individuals/families is Office 365 Home for $9.99 a month (or $99.99 a year). Office 365 Home is basically the Personal plan times five. Instead of sharing a login and password with your family members, this plan can (and should) be shared with five people who each get their own login and their own Office programs, 1TB of cloud storage, and 60 Skype minutes each. This plan is a no-brainer for families especially when there are children in school.

Did someone say free?

Can you get Office for free? Yes (Office Online that is). Microsoft offers their Outlook.com email service, 5GB of OneDrive cloud storage, and Office Online all for free. With Office Online you can create documents stored in OneDrive, share them, and co-author documents. If you only use a small set of Office features, then Office Online might work perfect for you. One great thing about Microsoft’s free offerings is they upgrade smoothly into paid plans if you ever need the additional features or storage.

Plans for organizations

Microsoft has done their best to keep their Office 365 plans simple, but the truth is that organizations are complex. There are sub groups within the “organizations” category including: education, government, small/medium business, and enterprise. These plans are very similar to the Personal and Home plans, but add Exchange, Skype for Business, and some bonus features.
These plans offer some combination of Exchange, Office Online, Office desktop programs, Skype for Business, OneDrive for Business cloud storage, SharePoint, and management tools. Usually people associate Office 365 with the traditional Office desktop programs. However, some of the low cost plans are cloud based. Most of the mid-tier plans offer most of what people expect in the form of Office programs. The high-tier (the E5) plans contain nearly everything Microsoft has to offer with only a few niche programs or services not offered.

What Office 365 provides

The Office Offerings Today

The Office Offerings Today

Most Office 365 plans offer some combination of OneDrive for Business, email, Skype for Business, Office Online and the Office desktop programs. Microsoft does a good job of clearly laying out everything each plan offers. If you want a detailed list of what each plan has to offer, then check out Office.com. One thing included in every Office 365 plan is Microsoft 24/7 tech support. This is an important perk which is critical if your business does not have a dedicated IT staff.

Office 2016 desktop programs

Obtaining access to the classic Office desktop programs is a huge reason why you might subscribe to Office 365. The programs offered through the subscription are Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, Access, and Publisher. OneNote is completely free with or without a subscription, so I left it off the list. Office 2016 bears a striking resemblance to Office 2007 and up, but the UI is more refined and there are a host of new features. Anyone comfortable with Office should be more than capable to pick up any Office 2016 program fairly easily. The Office 2016 suite recently received a massive update centered around teamwork. Features like simultaneous co-authoring, document sharing and via OneDrive, a cloud-first storage solution.
Similar products to the Office 2016 desktop programs: Open Office, LibreOffice, iWork, etc.

Office Online

Office Online VS Office 2016

Office Online compared to Office 2016

Many small businesses do not have the need for the feature packed Office 2016. Instead, they prefer to work in the cloud and use Office Online. This product allows you to create, edit, save, share, and collaborate on documents completely within a web browser. Files are saved in OneDrive and can be emailed as attachments when needed. Microsoft has been investing in Office Online for years and has a product that many businesses would be completely satisfied with. Documents created in Office Online are 100% compatible with all the Office desktop programs, and documents retain their fidelity.
Similar products to Office Online: Google Drive (Docs, Sheets, and Slides)

Office mobile apps

The mobile office for many companies is a reality and Microsoft is there to support you with their suite of mobile apps. Targeting iOS, Android, and Windows; Microsoft has built tools that enable rich document editing and sharing from any device. With a subscription to Office 365 these apps can create save and share Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents. When you save a document using OneDrive (or OneDrive for Business), documents sync between devices and maintain their fidelity even when going back and forth between mobile app or desktop program.
Similar products to Office Mobile Apps: iWork (Pages, Numbers, Keynote), Google Drive (Docs, Sheets, Slides), etc.

1TB (1024 GB) OneDrive storage


Microsoft’s solution for storing documents, photos, videos, music, and other files online is called OneDrive. OneDrive is deeply integrated into many of the Office Programs and comes pre-installed on Windows. With Office 365, Microsoft gives each user 1TB of cloud storage for whatever they want to store online. Files stored in the cloud can be accessed via OneDrive.com and the wide range of OneDrive apps on every major platform. This means you get 1TB for each user on your plan to use as their own.
Similar products to OneDrive: Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, iCloud, etc.


A major function of Office for many business and some consumers is access to professional email. With Personal and Home plans you can enjoy an ad-free web email which can be set up when activating the plan. The organization plans are a little different and while most offer Exchange email service, not all do. The email offered by Microsoft is extremely high quality and should be more than enough for the vast majority of users and business.
Similar products to Microsoft’s Email offerings: Gmail, Yahoo Mail, etc.

60 Skype minutes (consumer)

One of the lesser known features of Office 365 is one hour of Skype calling. This enables you to call landlines or cell phones from the Skype client and/or web browser. You can even set up Skype to display your cell or landline when calling other numbers so they know who is calling. It is worth noting that these Skype Minutes cannot be used to send SMS messages. Also, if you are outside the US, double check with this list before making any long calls: HERE
Similar products to Skype (consumer): Facebook Messenger, Apple FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Viber, etc.

Skype for Business

Skype For Business UI

Skype For Business UI

Similar to the Skype everyone knows (but actually rebranded Lync), Skype for Business is Microsoft’s professional communication tool. Skype for Business supports audio and video calls with sophisticated features like screen sharing and remote control. In some enterprise plans, Skype for Business can broadcast meetings (like a webinar). Fully featured Skype for Business can serve as the PBX for an entire enterprise and enable truly seamless mobility.
Similar products to Skype for Business: GoToMeeting, WebX, etc.

Enterprise collaboration

Working together in many companies can be a major chore when teams grow beyond a few members and a single location. To assist distributed teams to work together, Microsoft has SharePoint, Outlook Groups, Yammer, Delve, and Planner. These products help teams organize their documents on a team site, keep their communication in a shared inbox, and divide work into granular to-dos. This part of Office 365 has been seeing lots of activity from Microsoft as they beef up their collaboration offerings. If you would like to learn more about these products check out this series on Petri: HERE.
Similar products to Microsoft’s Enterprise Collaboration: IBM Websphere, Atlassian’s Confluence, Igloo, etc.

Advanced management tools

The competition is tough for Microsoft when it comes to selling their Office suite, but when it comes to advanced management tools, Microsoft is in a class of their own. A few of the high level Office 365 plans for organizations include advanced tools that help the IT staff to understand their users and manage devices and data. Tools like Advanced Security Management will use machine learning to identify and neutralize threats. Many of these sophisticated tools were added to Microsoft’s portfolio by way of acquisitions. Microsoft is very serious about protecting their customers’ data from hackers, abuse, failure, and governments, and these tools are offered to show it. In a world where data leaks are all too common, Microsoft wants to give companies the best tools available. Even non-malicious data loss like accidental file deletion or poorly storing sensitive information can be prevented using Microsoft’s tools.

Is Office 365 a good fit for you?

Probably yes. When you consider the Office programs, OneDrive storage, Skype minutes, and best-in-class management tools, Microsoft Office 365 is a good deal for nearly everyone. There are a few special cases where people can get by using free alternatives, but not most people. Microsoft is very responsive to their users and continues to invest heavily into all of their Office products. As a subscriber, you will constantly be kept up to date and worry free. If you have more questions about Office 365, comment below and I’ll do my best to find the answers.

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