With the final release of Office 365 (the Home Premium version) this week, Microsoft has taken bold steps to change its game. The latest office suite is radically different from previous versions of Microsoft Office, in terms of how it's distributed through to what's included and how it's priced.
The good news is most of the changes are very positive, a major reason why Microsoft Office 365 Home Premium bagged a Best Buy award in our review yesterday. Even though change is good in this case, there's still a lot you need to know before deciding to buy or install the suite. Here are ten of the most important facts about the new Microsoft Office 365…
1. It’s in the cloud. Microsoft Office 365 is "in the cloud" from two perspectives. Firstly, buying the suite requires you to download it, which is to say, you can't buy it on a disc (the exception being in developing countries, where Microsoft will continue to sell physical discs). Secondly, the office suite itself is set up to save your documents to the cloud, SkyDrive in this case, if you so choose. You do still have the option to save files locally, but the apps integrate tightly with SkyDrive. Also, you can install a temporary version of the suite (Office On Demand) on any Windows 7 or 8 machine to access and work on your documents on SkyDrive from anywhere.
2. Price and subscription model. Microsoft Office 365 Home Premium is now being sold via a subscription model, and it costs £79.99 per year for an entire household to install (more details on that below). Some of the other versions of the suite are sold as a "perpetual" license, meaning one copy of the software is licensed to only one machine, but that license is good for life.
3. License is good for five devices. Paying a subscription fee for Microsoft Office 365 Home Premium does have one huge advantage: You can install Office on up to five devices, and these can include both Windows machines and Macs. Microsoft says you'll be able to install the suite on additional, select mobile devices "when available," which is a cryptic way of not promising apps for the big two mobile operating systems, while still dangling the carrot.
4. Operating systems. You can install Microsoft Office 365 on machines running Windows 7 or 8 (but not Vista or XP). When you install the software on a Mac running OS X (10.5.8 and higher), you'll actually get Office 2011 (the full version), rather than Office 365.
5. Apps included. The Home Premium version of Office includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Publisher, OneNote, and Access. OneNote is not included in the Mac version, however.
6. You must install all apps. You cannot customise your installation of Office 365 Home Premium by choosing not to install some of the programs. The whole suite gets installed even if you never plan to use, say, Microsoft Access or Publisher.
7. Works on touchscreen devices. The new Office is designed to work on touchscreen devices, like tablets and touchscreen laptops running Windows 8. However, as we noted in our review of Office 365, touchscreen operation is far from ideal.
8. Includes 27GB of cloud storage. As mentioned, Office 365 was designed to integrate tightly with SkyDrive, Microsoft's answer to Google Drive. Every SkyDrive user gets 7GB of space free to start with, and Office 365 Home Premium subscribers get an additional 20GB of space, giving them a total of 27GB.
9. Free Skype minutes. One neat perk that's easy to overlook is that Home Premium subscribers get 60 free Skype minutes per month to call landlines in 40+ supported countries (the UK included). Skype-to-Skype calls are always free, but for times when you need to dial an international landline number, you can use your free Office minutes.
10. Additional versions and discounts. Home Premium is just one of several variants of Microsoft Office that's available. The Office 365 business editions are due to be released on February 27. University students and faculty members can also get a big discount for an Office package that's a little pared down, but much less expensive at only £59.99 for four years (usable on just two devices, though).