Matt Farrington-Smith
24/06/2011 15:50 | By Matt Farrington-Smith, editor, MSN Tech & Gadgets

What is Office 365?

Office 365: what is it and why do I need it?

Office 365 - what is it and why do I need it?

It's hard to believe but Microsoft released Office 2010 back in June 2010...

In the space of a year we've seen the launch of Office Web Apps (the one that allows you to create, edit and share your Office documents without the need for software) and now we welcome Office 365 to the party.

But how does this new incarnation of Microsoft's popular productivity suite fit into this mix?

What is Office 365?

Office 365 is a new cloud-based service that brings together Office and selected business software like SharePoint, Exchange and Lync for use in the workplace.

Microsoft Office 365 lets you work from virtually anywhere and on almost any device.

It combines the familiar Microsoft Office Web Apps with a new set of web-enabled tools.

Included are Microsoft Exchange with Forefront Online Protection (to protect you from viruses and spam), SharePoint, Lync (effectively Messenger, but for businesses) and Office Web Apps.

Office 365 operates a subscription service and users can get virtually anywhere access from £4 per user per month. You can also download a free trial which will let you explore features and set up user accounts. After 30 days you can convert your trial into a paid subscription.

If you're already familiar with Office Web Apps you'll love the added functionality that the cloud-based Office 365 brings to the table. For everyone else we've summarized the main points below:

Office 365 interface. Sign-in screen

Office Web Apps

Office Web Apps are convenient online companions to the software otherwise found in Office 2010.

Office 365 works with the software you already know and use like Word, Excel, OneNote, and PowerPoint - only now you can access, view, and edit documents directly in your web browser. And because Office Web Apps allow you to create and edit documents in real-time, you can keep a tab on who exactly is editing and viewing your documents.

If you're worried about the age-old problem of compatibility between Office file formats you'll be pleased to know that documents created in Office Web Apps offer consistent formatting from desktop to web.

All documents created in Office Web Apps and Office applications on your PC will be 100 per cent compatible across the Office 2010 product range.

Visit the official Office 365 website

Email and calendar

Office 365 provides professional, easy-to-manage email. Each user is provided with a 25GB mailbox and this allows email messages of up to 25MB in size. It doesn't matter whether you are connected to the internet at home, in the office or working offline - your emails will be there all the time, every time.

See your colleagues availability and suggested meeting times from your calendar. You can easily schedule meetings by sharing calendars and viewing them side by side.

Co-authoring and sharing files between other users is easy.

Share files and documents

Share large files both inside and outside your business with a password-protected website. And with co-authoring, you can edit the same document at the same time as others. No more multiple versions or waiting your turn (yes we all know how frustrating that can be), just dive-in and Office 365 will take care of the rest.

Visit the official Office 365 website

Create a website in minutes

One of the neatest features to be found in Office 365 is the Website Setup mode. Office 365 makes it laughably easy to set up a website for your business using the built-in templates and tweaking the great number of options on offer.

Microsoft Lync in action.

Lync is a powerful instant-messenger client. It handles video calls especially well.

Microsoft Lync

Microsoft Lync or Microsoft Lync Online (to give it its full name) is best described as a more powerful Windows Live Messenger client (only without the colourful but calming aesthetics found in Messenger 2011).

Lync will help you find and quickly connect with the right person through instant messaging, Lync video calls, or online meetings from within the Office applications you already use every day.

Rather like Windows Live Messenger, Lync allows you to set your online status.

The presence indicator allows you to see when colleagues, partners etc are online and available to talk.

Who can use it?

The short answer - just about anyone can use it, but Office 365 is mainly aimed at business users.

For the regular man on the street you could probably get by with Office 2010 alone. For those who want a little more, do a bit of travelling or are intrigued by the cloud - the ingenius pairing of Office 2010 and Office Web Apps is likely to satisfy.

However for professionals and those running medium-to-large businesses, Office 365 is a particularly tantalising and worthy investment. Like its name-sake, it is designed to be all-encompassing. It's a service that doesn't just come to a stop at the typical suite of Office products but instead goes beyond and continues out to other devices. Think of Office 365 as an organic entity rather than a one-time product that is shut down at the end of a working day and you're halfway there.

Office 365 has been designed in such a way that makes it possible to work from just about anywhere, it works across an eye-watering amount of devices including PCs, Macintosh computers, iPhone, Android phones, Blackberry smartphones, Windows Mobile and Windows Phones.

What does it cost?

You can take advantage of Office 365 from £4 per user, per month.

Visit the official Office 365 website

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