Microsoft Office 365 £4
22nd Jul 2011 | 09:30
Microsoft Office 365 goes head to head with Google Apps
Microsoft has dabbled in online collaboration before. The SharePoint service might not have set the world alight, but it was a dependable package.
Microsoft Office 365 unites SharePoint with the online version of Microsoft Office – Office Web Apps.
Since the launch of Windows Phone 7, Microsoft has been more focused than ever on smartphones, and its renewed interest in this market has led to some useful smartphone integration.
The 2010 versions of Microsoft Exchange and Lync are also included, offering good features for small businesses.
Tying it all together
Office 365 is aimed at small businesses that might not have dedicated IT staff, so the ease with which its advanced features can be set up and configured is highly commendable.
There are short video tutorials that helped us set up Office 365 much faster than we ever managed with SharePoint. When signing up for the service, we were given a '.onmicrosoft.com' domain name. Importing an existing domain name is pretty simple, and worth doing if you want to incorporate Office 365 with your existing company site and email.
If you don't already have your own website, Office 365 comes with a simple site builder. We were able to make a reasonable looking site in a few minutes using the included templates, stock photos and clipart. The websites you make with this won't win any design awards, but they look good enough and, most importantly, are easy to create.
The Microsoft Exchange 2010 service is the most complicated of the services to set up, and probably the most important to get right, but it means you can send and receive emails, and share calendars and contacts. These can be accessed through a desktop email program, via a smartphone or through Outlook Web Access – a pared-down web version of Outlook.
Outlook Web Access 2010 includes some handy updates, like a faster, more responsive interface and improved support for browsers other than Internet Explorer.
Ease of use
We had Office 2010 software installed on our test machines, and we were able to configure them to interact with 365 by clicking the 'Set up' button in the 'Downloads' section. This downloaded and installed a number of updates that let us use our desktop applications with 365 – saving documents straight from Word to the online SharePoint server, for example.
As you might expect from Microsoft, we had to install several updates, with some updated programs then requiring other programs to be updated, and so on. It wasn't the smoothest of operations, but it was a good time-saver when used with multiple PCs.
It does mean that you need to have Microsoft Office 2007 or 2010 installed; if you don't, some of the most useful functions will be lost.
It's clear that Microsoft Office 365 has been optimised to work with devices running Windows, Microsoft Office and Windows Phone 7. If your business uses OS X, Google Docs or Android smartphones, Google Apps offers more choice.
Microsoft Office 365 has had through lengthy beta testing, and with Microsoft's experience in developing office software, the resulting service strikes a good balance between power, features and simplicity. It offers much the same functionality as Google Apps, with the same 99.9 per cent uptime guarantee, and is just a little more expensive.
Microsoft Office 365 is more streamlined, with its services integrating much better than Google's various products. If your small business already uses Microsoft Office products then this is an excellent accompaniment, though if you don't want to be tied to Microsoft products, Google Apps offers far more flexibility.
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