As of April 21, 2020, the official branding of Microsoft's productivity suite has changed from Office 365 to just Microsoft 365. The new naming convention reflects Microsoft's strategy to provide its customers with a single, complete productivity platform. From a customer perspective, there is no separation between Windows 10, Office 365 and Azure - it's all just one platform, the Microsoft 365 platform.
Microsoft Office as a product line dates back almost three decades, with the early versions essentially combining Word, Excel and PowerPoint into a discounted package. Microsoft 365 (formerly known as Office 365), which has been available since 2011, differs from that old-fashioned package in two ways: first, it's sold as a subscription (billed monthly or annually) rather than as a perpetual license with a fixed one-time payment. Second, it combines a suite of online services, including enterprise-class email, cloud file storage, and secure communications tools, along with traditional desktop applications.
Since this is a subscription offering, these desktop programs are updated automatically when a new version is available. If your subscription is up-to-date, you'll get the latest versions with monthly security releases and feature updates every six months on the same calendar as Windows 10.
Microsoft 365 is available in Family and Personal editions (formerly known as Office 365 Home and Personal), which are designed to be used by families, students, and individuals for personal, non-commercial use.
In this article, we cover a number of Microsoft 365 Business and Enterprise editions that offer a more advanced feature set than the Family and Personal editions, with collaboration apps and management tools that are designed to meet the challenges of enterprise security and compliance.
This enterprise-class email offering provides every Microsoft 365 subscriber in your organisation with a mailbox with a maximum capacity of 50GB or 100GB, with the ability to access email through a web browser or using Outlook on Windows, on a Mac or on mobile devices. Malware and spam filtering is built-in, as well as basic features such as shared mailboxes and (for some Microsoft 365 subscriptions) advanced features such as eDiscovery.
Every Microsoft 365 Business subscriber gets 1TB of OneDrive for Business personal storage with sync clients available for every desktop and mobile platform. The Windows 10 client uses the same sync client as the consumer OneDrive service, storing data in a separate location. The Files on Demand feature allows users to view and manage cloud storage using File Explorer. Enterprise plan administrators can upgrade users to unlimited storage if a terabyte isn't enough.
SharePoint's interface is now sleek where it was once clunky, allowing teams to share files and sync information in File Explorer using the same desktop client as in OneDrive for Business. Both SharePoint and Exchange Online include administrative controls that restrict users from sharing confidential information outside the organization.
This collaboration platform replaces the legacy Skype for Business and offers unified communications, HD video conferencing and instant messaging for Microsoft 365 subscribers in an organization, along with a team- and channel-based architecture that covers much of the same feature set as alternatives like Slack. The free version of Teams allows small businesses to use the service without having to pay any licensing fees. The use of Microsoft Teams has expanded dramatically since early 2020, as pandemic-related downtime has become an ideal option for remote working scenarios. The developers behind Teams are delivering new features for desktop, mobile, and web apps on a monthly basis.
Some Microsoft 365 plans include services targeted to specific audiences. For example, the Microsoft 365 Business Standard and Business Premium plans include services for small and medium-sized businesses; these tools include Microsoft Bookings, which allows customers to schedule and manage meetings, and MileIQ, a mileage tracking service. All enterprise plans include the Yammer social networking service and a selection of business automation tools, including Microsoft Power Apps for creating custom forms, Power Automate for streamlining repetitive workflows, and Power BI Pro, an advanced business analytics tool.
Each Microsoft 365 plan that includes desktop applications offers the following Office applications for all supported versions of Windows and for macOS: Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Access and Publisher are only available on Windows computers. Microsoft recently announced plans to include a "lightweight" version of Visio in its business plans. These applications are automatically updated to the latest version with monthly security updates and feature updates twice a year.
A subscription to Microsoft 365 provides per-user licensing, which means the apps can be installed and used on up to five phones, five tablets and five PCs or Macs at the same time. In their personal subscription portal, users can log in with their Microsoft 365 credentials and manage installations without having to enter Product Key codes or worry about activation.
In contrast, perpetual-licensed versions of Office are typically only licensed for use on a single device and cannot be transferred.
The web-based versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint offer fairly robust tools that allow editing of files stored in OneDrive for Business. These tools work in any modern desktop browser without the need for additional software. Most business plans also offer Outlook on the web.
When you sign in with an active subscription on mobile devices (iOS and Android), the new unified Office app offers a single place to create, view, and edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files. The Outlook app provides a unified view of business and personal email and calendar accounts. Mobile apps are also available for Microsoft 365 services including OneDrive, Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams.
For small businesses, the four Microsoft 365 plans support up to 300 users. All prices listed below are current as of June 2021 and assume a one-year commitment. (Monthly plans with no commitment typically cost about 25% more.)
(formerly Office 365
Includes online-only services including Exchange Online and OneDrive for Business without access to Office desktop apps. This plan is suitable for organizations that want managed email and cloud storage but are already investing in Office desktop programs.
Includes Office desktop apps only and OneDrive for Business cloud file storage. Does not include Exchange Online email or any other online services. It's a good option for small businesses that want easy access to Office apps and cloud storage, but don't want to switch their email to Microsoft servers.
(formerly Office 365
Includes all online services and desktop applications.
Includes all online services and desktop applications, plus advanced cyber threat protection and Microsoft Intune device management.
For larger organisations, Microsoft offers three Microsoft 365 Enterprise plans that support an unlimited number of users. Unlike their Office 365 predecessors, these plans now include Windows Enterprise licensing for individual users, access to the Microsoft 365 Admin Center, Microsoft Intune device management tools, Windows AutoPilot, and Microsoft Endpoint Configuration Manager.
Offers online services and online versions of Office applications, but does not include desktop applications. This plan is specifically targeted at organizations that want to offer email and cloud storage to frontline workers.
Brings together the full range of online services and desktop applications and is the most popular plan for larger companies. Includes advanced email retention and discovery features to address litigation issues. It lacks a few features, such as the ability to integrate Microsoft Teams with an organization's phone system, and includes a subset of Azure Active Directory Premium features.
Includes some advanced eDiscovery features, but justifies the higher price with enterprise-level security features. For example, every Microsoft 365 E5 subscription is automatically a Microsoft 365 threat analysis endpoint and can be integrated with Microsoft Defender advanced threat protection.
In addition to these pre-configured plans, individual Microsoft 365 services are available on an a la carte basis. Additional plans are available for non-profit organizations, government agencies, and educational institutions.
Microsoft 365 includes a dashboard that administrators can use to manage licenses, subscriptions, features, and security. This console can be overwhelming, and some features can even be managed using only PowerShell cmdlets.
Even in small organizations, having an experienced Office 365 administrator who can manage users and properly configure security options is key. If you don't have internal staff with the proper training, it's worth outsourcing this management task to a managed services provider.
Microsoft 365 services are designed to be secure by default. You can make several changes to the default settings to strike the right balance between security and convenience.
First, enable multi-factor authentication by logging in to the Azure Active Directory portal as a global administrator. Each user must provide alternate contact methods, such as a phone number to receive SMS messages. The Microsoft Authenticator app is particularly useful as a primary means of generating one-time codes or receiving push notifications to sign in to Office 365 services.
Next, enable self-service password reset. A link to this option can be found in the Security and Privacy section of the Microsoft 365 admin portal.
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