Software Review: Office 365

In my industry, it’s very easy to form opinions that don’t always align with how the rest of the industry feels, and I’m not an exception to that. Since the mainstream promotion of the Cloud, I’ve been quite against it. While the details of my reasoning haven’t changed much, primarily being that I don’t like the idea of my personal and business information stored on a hard drive in who-knows-where, I am starting to appreciate cloud-based software a little more. I’ve used Google Drive and Chrome to sync files I need to access elsewhere and, on numerous occasions, I’ve configured cloud storage or backup for my clients, but I’ve never taken the time to stop and look at cloud software that may be useful. After years of recommending against Office 365, and shelling out for the full version, I tried my one month free. Not even halfway through my free month, now I’m a believer…

When Office 365 first launched, I felt it to be a bit of a mistake on Microsoft’s part. In fact, I never really looked to see what it truly offered for it’s monthly or annually subscription. Now, I’m sure it’s a marketing ploy to try to get more subscribers, and if it is, it apparently worked to get me, but Office 365 Home is quite the deal for only $10\mo (or save $20 and subscribe for $100\yr).

So, what changed? I was feeling a little out of date still running Office 2010 so I felt like an upgrade was in order. In my home, I have 4 computers that all have Office on them, and, call me strange, but I don’t really like mismatched versions all that much. At the time, I was trying to be frugal, and actually use some of the free alternatives that I keep recommending such as LibreOffice and Thunderbird.

Now, don’t get me wrong, both of these free alternatives are great pieces of software and can be incredibly useful, but I’ve been using Office for a very, very long time. I could find my way around the alternatives quite well, and they had many of the features that I needed (with the exception of Publisher-esque features), but I felt like a stranger in another persons home. It just wasn’t the same.

So, I decided I might bite the bullet and price out Office 2016 and, for everything that I really needed, I was looking at a $400 purchase for a single machine for the Professional edition (it includes Publisher). My next step down was Home and Business, for $230, but it was missing Publisher and I didn’t quite have the kind of funds to drop that much on Office, especially for four computers. So, partially defeated, I was about to resign back to my free software, and the “Try for Free” button for Office 365 Home caught my eye.

Let me summarize what’s included: First of all, obviously, it comes with the most essential Office application such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. We all know of the first three, but OneNote is a relatively new product from Microsoft. Now, when I say relatively new, I’m comparing it’s (roughly) 8 year life up against the 25 year lifespan that Office has been around for. I’ve seen it around, packaged with other versions of Office that I’ve purchased, namely 2007 and 2010, and I’m sure it was in 2013, but I never really used it. I’ve always stuck with notepad, not even sticky notes. I’ve used notepad for note taking for as long as I can remember, so I’m sure you can imagine how many text files I have scattered around my hard drives. All I have to say on OneNote now though is that I’m actively trying to break the habit of launching notepad to take a note, because OneNote allows me to store all my notes in one location so that, when I load OneNote, I’m reminded of all that I’ve added up to this point. I don’t have the best of memory, so this truly helps.

Moving on, Office 365 Home also includes Outlook, Access and, drumroll please, Publisher! Right now, I’m almost sold. It’d cost me about $40\mo to equip all my machines with this software, or that’s what I thought until I realized that this edition will install on five separate computers and laptops without any increase in price. In addition, I can install the mobile software on five tablets and then five more phones. I haven’t even installed it yet and, honestly, I’m starting to already get just a little excited, but remain cautious. So, I went ahead and installed it.

Honestly, I don’t know what I was expecting. For a while now, I’ve known that purchasing Office 365 does require a local installation on the computer, but I kind of figured it’d work more like Google Apps (such as docs and sheets), not be a complete version of Office. However, it’s a complete version of Office. As for my Simple Review synopsis of this software: It’s not perfect but it’s almost great.

About this time, most reviews lay out a Pro and Con list; they tell you what’s great about the software, and what’s not that great. In my opinion, that’s not quite so simple to do with Office. Most of us have been using Office for a very long time, and have expectations on what it should include, but here’s the breakdown on the software in it that I use:

  • Word: It allows me to write letters, contracts, articles and much more. It also includes proofreading tools such as the dictionary, spellcheck, thesaurus and many others.
  • Excel: It makes spreadsheets, it calculates correctly and it has macro and scripting support.
  • Outlook: It fetches my email, it lets me compose new emails and I can keep track of my calendar and contacts.
  • Publisher: I can design business cards, flyers and other marketing material.
  • Access: Databases work like they should.
  • PowerPoint: I haven’t used it yet, in fact I rarely do, however I have a feeling that it’ll make a slideshow just as well as it did in 2010.

As you can tell, it’s Office; Office has worked just as well as it has for many years, and provides the same functionality. That being said, I do have a couple of complaints. That’s why I feel that this software is almost great, but not great.

First of all, its need to constantly want to save to OneDrive. Honestly, I can see the advantages of cloud storage and, with the 1 TB of storage offered per user with Office 365, that’s 1TB of storage that I can free up on my computers, 5 TB total – that’s a lot of storage. However, most of my documents, I don’t want to save to OneDrive. I am using my OneDrive a little more so that I may store documents that I need access to on my phone and tablet, but I also export to PDF onto my Google Drive, as it’s easier to share those documents with clients. Primarily, however, I want to save my documents on my computer.

My next two complaints aren’t even a complaint with Office, they’re complaints with the Office franchise after 2007. First, and foremost: ribbons. I grew up with a File menu. Not only just a File menu, but there was also an Edit menu, a View menu, a Format menu and plenty of other menus. My use of ribbons is what has grown out of Microsoft’s need to “simplify” Office. In my opinion, it was already simple. I can work my way through the ribbons, but they’re on everything now; better yet, they’re on everything still. I’ve heard both sides of the ribbon argument, and the ribbons make sense to a good number of people, but I prefer still menus. My hope is that for Office 2019, or whichever the next version is, maybe “Office 10”, they’ll allow for switching between the ribbon and menu interface, like they did with the Start Screen and Start Menu in Windows 10. In my opinion, from a technical support role, I feel that would be ideal.

My second Office franchise complaint is the lack of visuals customization, even considering that you do have a little more customization with the header by changing the background picture, but it’s a preset list of possible background patterns. Interestingly enough, it was also one of my first complaints with the new Windows XP themes, being that you only have a few colors to choose from. In each version of Office, those color schemes have changed, but in 365 it’s “Colorful”, “Dark Grey” and “White”. What if I want my Word to be green, my Excel to be blue while my Outlook is grayish turquoise? I understand the amount of time and work that goes into this software, but we can customize and colorize the taskbar, start menu and interfaces in Windows, and Office completely defies your Windows selected scheme and colors itself however it wants. I’m the kind of guy that likes continuity, but maybe not duplication. That’s why this blog and my computer repair website look similar, but not the exact same. That familiarity allows visitors of both of my website to understand and easily explore both, without having to learn a brand new interface with each website of mine they visit.

So that’s about all I have to say about Office 365. I’m not sure how simple my first Simple Review is, but they point of these “Simple Reviews” is to provide you with my understanding and opinion on whatever the topic is, and I hope that I’ve provided enough information for you to explore and evaluate your own opinions on this software. If you do, if you already have or even if you just want more information, feel free to contact me, or even just leave a comment below! It doesn’t matter if you think I’m right or I’m wrong, it’s always fun to discuss these points and, to be honest, I like to be proven wrong – it keeps me questioning my thoughts which leads me to expand my range of thinking, and that’s always helpful in this industry. Thanks for reading!

Office 365; Final Rating: Almost Great


 

NOTE: It’s important to make a statement here: I’m using Office 365 Home for $9.99\mo. I use this edition for personal work, my wife uses this for personal work, my step-son uses this for school work and, because it’s there, I inherently use this for business as well. The End User License Agreement prohibits the use of this Home software for business, except in very specific circumstances. I did speak with a very nice representative (Lorie) using Microsoft’s chat system, and she confirmed the following: The License for this software allows me to use this software as I do run a home-based business. However, if I hire any employees and have it configured to allow them to use Office for my business; I build and/or connect to a Microsoft Active Directory domain; and, under my presumption, if I get a retail storefront or office, I do have to purchase either a full version, or pay for a new subscription, of Office for Business . This statement is important as I wanted to make sure I shared the stipulations on this software for business use, as I know some of my readers run businesses of their own.

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