Microsoft goes to the cloud with Office 365

This won’t be a comprehensive review of Microsoft’s Office 365 Home Premium offering as I’m not a heavy Office user, but after having used the suite for a few months I do have some thoughts.

As mentioned, I’m not a comprehensive Officer user – I primarily use Word and PowerPoint, and occasionally Excel. My company switched to Google for mail a few years ago so I don’t use Outlook, and I don’t recall ever using Access, Publisher or One Note. So my observations are limited to my interaction with those programs.

Not that most of the enhancements to Office’s 2013 suite are product-focused anyway, for this is the year Microsoft, whether you’re using Office 365 or Office 2013, went all-in on the cloud. Microsoft’s cloud-based storage service is SkyDrive (Office 365 Home Premium comes with 20GB of SkyDrive storage) and it’s the default option when saving a file. In other words, you have to go out of your way to save it on your desktop instead of in the cloud.

At first, I was skeptical of this cloud-first mentality. I’d found DropBox and Google Drive clunky for mirroring files between my computers. However, once I started to use it, Office and SkyDrive largely won me over. Now I’m saving all my Word files on SkyDrive, just like it’s a folder on my desktop, and accessing them easily through Word whether I’m on my home desktop or laptop or my work PC. I no longer need to email myself files, stick them on thumb drives or worry about versioning.

I say largely won me over, because I did find that the uploading to the cloud was, at times, not as seamless as it should be. At times, after hitting save, I would have to wait 30 seconds while a file uploaded to the cloud – this should happen in the background while I keep working. I also got pop-ups too often about files “requiring my attention” that weren’t uploading properly. Even if my network connection wasn’t always fabulous, the program should be slightly less needy in this regard.

The programs themselves I found largely unchanged from previous versions, and I’ve made my peace with the ribbon interface long ago. Office 365 comes with 60 minutes of Skype calls per month, which I haven’t taken advantage of yet.

When it comes to Office, consider licensing carefully. Your decision on Office 365 Home Premium vs. Office 2013 will be based primarily on how many computers you want to use it on, as otherwise they’re largely the same (except for the Skype Minutes and clould storage.

If you only want to use it on one computer, then you probably don’t need SkyDrive for file sharing anyway, so Office Home & Student 2013 or Office Home & Business 2013 are probably your best bets, at $139.00 and $249.00 respectively for a perpetual license.

However, if you want to use Office on multiple computers, that’s where Office 365 Home Premium starts to make sense. For $99/year or $10/month, you can install it on up to five computers, Windows and Mac included. You get version updates during the subscription period with 365; with 2013 you don’t. So consider your needs carefully though, or you could make a costly licensing mistake.

It’s also important to note the new Office is only compatible with Windows 8 and Windows 7, as well as Mac OS X 10.6 or later. Vista lovers (if you’re out there), you’re out of luck.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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