The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant announced its new Office 2013 package and the consumer-friendly Office 365 Home Premium service last month. But today's general release of Small Business Premium edition means Microsoft's full-featured office software experience is now widely available online for cloud-savvy small businesses.
At $15 per month, or $150 per year, per user, the web-based version of Microsoft's popular for-business office software suite goes a step further than the company's basic small business hosted email and calendaring package. Office 365 offers access to both web and desktop versions of Word, Outlook and Excel, as well as website creation tools and other business apps for up to five devices per user.
We spent about two weeks combing through the software package, looking at its strengths and weaknesses. Here are three insights for small-business users who are considering an upgrade to the Office 365 Small Business Premium edition:
1. Heavy users of Word, Excel and PowerPoint are ideal users.
PowerMicrosoft Office software users -- with installed versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint -- should find that files are easier to share, administrate and manage by using this latest version of Office 365.
Some of the new features include customizable email addresses, website naming tools, the ability to track contacts and staff on social media like LinkedIn and Facebook, and integration with mobile apps -- particularly for Windows Phones. The package also comes with enhanced security, including password management and centrally administered identities for easy adding and removing of staff.
Additionally, Microsoft promises that it won't scan emails or documents and share the data for advertising purposes, as some claim other web-based office software companies do.
2. Smaller firms might want to try Office 365 Home Premium instead.
All this capability comes at a price. Depending on the package of Office 365, users may need both a paid per user license for Office software -- which can cost $399 per seat -- as well as pay the monthly paid Office 365 service.
While not specifically aimed for small-business use, Microsoft's Home Premium Edition rolled out a few weeks ago. For $99 a year, up to five PCs or Macs gain access to reasonably full-featured versions of Word, Excel and many other Microsoft programs. You also get access to the SkyDrive cloud service as well as other web apps.
The drawback is that Office 365 Home Premium lacks some features in collaboration tools like Lync for online meetings and SharePoint for managing documents and projects, among other things.
3. For collaboration, a pure web app might be best.
Microsoft tries to blur the line between the web and the PC by making a product that attempts to deliver the best of both worlds -- but that line still exists. Revising documents in Office 365, for example, can be a surprisingly complex process that requires additional steps to make sure updates are accepted and changes are confirmed by each user.
Office 365 simply does not offer the same kind of speedy, real-time editing environment you find in pure web apps such as Google Apps, Zoho and any number of others.