We love the cloud, but does Microsoft Office 365 really satisfy all of our office needs?
For almost two decades, Microsoft Office has been at the heart of businesses around the world. Its continuing market dominance among both PC and Mac users is truly impressive, despite controversies like the introduction of the ribbon bar and the short-lived FrontPage HTML editor.
Notwithstanding the growing popularity of Google Docs, it could be argued that the biggest rival to the desktop Microsoft Office platform is itself – specifically, Office 365. This cloud-hosted cousin of the original desktop package is a subscription-driven SAAS platform that automatically updates with the latest features, making it ideal for people who regularly use more than one device. It’s worth taking a few moments to consider which of these two closely related packages represents the best option.
Viewed as the original and best by many people, the desktop installation of Microsoft Office is now into its 11th generation for PC users, and its 9th version for Mac customers. The enduring popularity and dependability of previous versions is evidenced by Microsoft providing extended support for Office 2007 and above; the current 2016 version debuted last autumn.
It’s often believed that Office only contains four programs, since these are the most popular and widely used. However, the Access database and OneNote note-taking utility are also bundled in with the market-leading Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook programs. Cut-down Home & Student/Home & Business versions drop Outlook and Access, reducing the cost for individual consumers, but also sacrificing ancillary features like free cloud storage and technical support.
The advantages of Office as a desktop installation include accessibility even when a computer is offline, whereas Office 365’s emails are all cloud-hosted and therefore inaccessible without an internet connection. Perhaps surprisingly, it also offers greater affordability than its online counterpart, with no monthly subscriptions and no risk of being cut off for non-payment. However, it requires almost 3GB of hard drive space, and the latest 2016 edition also needs a minimum 1GHz processor. The single-user licence may be an issue if you want to replace your computer, and the installation process can be tedious and time-consuming.
It was perhaps inevitable that Office would find its way into the cloud, and Office 365 is ideal for hot-desking or those using multiple devices. By taking out a monthly or annual subscription to 365 Home, the latest updates and revisions are automatically distributed among up to five desktop, portable or smartphone devices. Separate packages can be purchased for companies with up to – and over – 300 employees. It’s also possible to install temporary versions of Office programs onto an additional machine for short-term access. Office 365 can be tested free for a month, although this will embed numerous files on the recipient device that may not be fully removed.
The ability to always have the latest version of Office packages is hugely tempting, rather than the desktop version becoming obsolete after what’s typically a three-year lifespan. Cloud packages are far easier to install, and the rolling release updates make for a seamless user experience … to a point.
However, regular software updates can become quite disruptive. Few people would welcome revised interfaces and new features suddenly appearing without warning (or instructions), and Microsoft’s track record of ‘improving’ Office is patchy at best. It’s also important to note that Publisher and Access aren’t available for Mac users, though it’s doubtful that many small businesses use these programs anyway.
For many, the reassurance of offline access and the prospect of outright ownership (rather than renting via direct debit) make Office 2016 a better bet. Fans of the cloud should migrate towards the 365 version, as should people who regularly hot-desk between different devices. Either option will provide users with market-leading software programs, while both are likely to remain market leaders for the foreseeable future.
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