Since its introduction three years ago, Microsoft's subscription-based version of MS Office, Office 365, has been a good value for family use and for small businesses like law firms. But it has not been particularly well marketed.
Contrary to popular belief, Office 365 is not Web-based. You acquire it by subscribing on the Web and downloading an installer. Although it integrates with Microsoft's web-based services such as OneDrive file storage, the Office software (Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, Excel, etc.) itself is installed on your computer's hard drive just like traditional software. Once installed, you need not be on-line to use it.
If you have more than one computer or mobile device on which you need Office, the subscription-based Office 365 option can be a compelling cost savings over spending several hundred dollars for a traditional copy of MS Office to install on each of your computers. It may also be a better deal than paying perhaps $150 or more to buy a traditional "bundled" copy of MS Office with a new PC. An added bonus is that an Office 365 subscription allows you to download and use the fully-featured version of Office for iPad. Non-subscribers can download the free apps that make up Office for iPad, but can use them only for viewing MS Office documents, not for creating new documents or editing existing documents. Many lawyers who use MS Office on their computer also use Apple's iPad for mobile computing, so an Office 365 subscription is especially handy for them.
Despite the already high value of an Office 365 subscription plan, Microsoft has struggled to effectively market it. To remedy that problem (and perhaps creating unneeded confusion in the process), the Office 365 subscription plans for small and mid-sized businesses are changing this fall. Unless there are last-minute revisions (always a possibility with Microsoft, which only days before its schedule launch, halted the release of the Surface Mini tablet computer), the new plans will be:
Office 365 Business Essentials
- Actually, this isn't MS Office at all. It is hosted Exchange services for email and calendaring combined with Cloud document storage and a few other features. It is cheap at $5 per month or $60 per year. It is great for email and Cloud storage, but only if you already have a locally installed office suite.
Office 365 Business
- This is the real deal and will interest solo and small firm lawyers who already have their email and calendaring service set up and are happy with it. This subscription is for locally installable MS Office applications (Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Publisher) for up to 5 PCs and/or Macs. The cost is $8.25 per user per month, or $99 per year.
Office 365 Premium
- This subscription combines the hosted Exchange and other on-line services of the "Essentials" package at the top of the list plus the locally installable software licenses of the "Business" subscription. The cost is $12.50 per month per user, or $150 per year. This is the one to get if you want to locally install MS Office also want to upgrade your email and calendaring to Microsoft's excellent hosted Exchange while including useful services such as Lync Online (instant messaging and video conferencing) and SharePoint Online (team collaboration).
As an added bonus, Microsoft is in the process of upgrading OneDrive storage on all of its existing Office 365 subscription plans to a full 1 Terabyte per user. My plan was upgraded last week. This is a huge amount of on-line file storage and adds to the already substantial value of Office 365.