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What is Microsoft Office 365? A Simple, Straightforward, and Jargon-Free Answer

Aug 19, 2013 Office 365 Dennis Junk

What is Office 365If you’re like most people today, you probably don’t come in to work at 8:00 in the morning, log in on your desktop, and work at your desk until quitting time at 5:00, when you promptly forget all about work until you return to your desk the next morning. As businesses move farther from the old factory model toward greater mobility and more flexible schedules, it becomes ever more challenging to maintain access to documents and stay connected to coworkers.  

Office 365 is a cloud service designed to give round-the-clock access to your business computing. Over the years, it has grown to incorporate several types of software. One of them is Office Pro Plus, which makes Microsoft Office tools like Word, PowerPoint, and Excel available through the cloud. This way you can work on your documents, presentations, or spreadsheets even if you don’t have Office software installed on your computer. You can even access them on smart phones and tablets with Office Web Apps, another component of Office 365. (The name Office 365 is Microsoft’s shorthand for suggesting you’ll be connected all the time—every day of the year.) 

Things can get a little confusing when trying to separate Office 365 as a basic product you can purchase at a store like Best Buy from what IT service providers and developers are referring to when they talk about Office 365. What you get at the store is merely Office Pro Plus, i.e. Office tools, on an annual subscription basis. What IT people are referring to, though, is a more general bundled package that might include Office Pro Plus, or might instead focus on software like Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync. 

The demand for Office 365 stems from this: if your only access to business computing tools like Word and PowerPoint is limited to the software you have housed on your servers at work, once you get home—or anywhere outside the office—you’re not going to be able to open and edit the document you were working on at the office. It also means that you won’t be able to work on the presentation you and a colleague were collaborating on.

Of course, most of us have Word on our computers at home too, so if someone sends us a Word document as an email attachment we can open it, edit it, and send it to someone else. Not many of us, however, have Word installed on our tablets or mobile phones. And without Office 365 you don’t have as many tools for sharing and collaborating on documents in real time, because they aren’t available with traditional versions of the software. 

What does SaaS mean?

Office 365 is often referred to as a SaaS (pronounced just like sass). This is just an acronym for Software as a Service, meaning that instead of having programs installed on your local servers or on your desktop’s hard-drive you purchase a subscription through a provider. This means you get access to software over the internet much the same way you get access to your favorite movies and shows through Netflix as opposed to building up a collection of DVDs.

If you only ever use Word on a single desktop at home, then it would probably be cheaper to buy the latest version and have it installed on your hard-drive than to pay a monthly bill. But if you need other Office software, or if you need it to be available to multiple users in multiple locations on multiple devices, then signing up for the ongoing service would be the better option. Another big advantage of Office 365 is that you’ll get software updates automatically, so you’ll always be using the latest version without having to purchase any downloads.

Various subscription plans are available to meet individuals’ or businesses’ unique needs. These plans include bundling with other software products, like Exchange, SkyDrive Pro, Lync, and SharePoint. And the way the different systems are integrated in the cloud to provide enhanced functionality is really tough to match when you’re only working with local servers.

If you want to know about the other software offerings available in service plans, or if you’d like to know if Office 365 would be a good investment given your particular needs, feel free to describe your situation to us in the comments section. You can also contact us through our website.


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