Walkthough of key features

Here are some of the basics of the Office 365 and what you’ll be seeing if you decide to give it a spin.

Home

Office 365 Home

The main Home screen is your access point to creating new Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote documents. It also gives you links to Outlook, Calendar, and Lync, which gives you instant messaging, audio and video calling, and online meetings. The setup is simple enough to get through, and it’s fairly responsive overall.

Admin

Office 365 Admin

The Administrator panel is seen by whoever set up the account originally. From here, you can add new users, assign licenses that have been purchased, and even make minor text edits to a simple website that is connected to Office 365. It’s not hard to use this page, but once you start clicking around, there are a lot of screens to go through before finding and assigning the right options.

Team Site

Office 365 Team

The team site page lets you and your team see all the documents that have been shared within the group. You can also use the page as a message board for conversing about documents or general work matters.

Word

Office 365 Word

The Office 365 Web Apps version of Word is sufficient to the needs of the average user. Basic formatting, fonts, spell checking and view changes are all available.

Excel

Office 365 Excel

The Web Apps version of Excel is another matter. It feels way too basic. Users can’t even create charts and graphs, among many other missing features, which really hurts its overall potential. The solution here is to buy $24 per user per month licenses for users who need serious Excel editing abilities, which gives them access to the full version of Excel on the desktop, and keep the $6 per user per month license for those who don’t.

Outlook

Office 365 Outlook

Microsoft’s Outlook has been a stalwart in offices across the country for a long while. The Web Apps version of the well-known mail software works and looks good. It does everything I expected it to do without needing to install a desktop version.

Verdict: a strong package all around

Microsoft is staking out the future with Office 365, and it fits right in with the larger trend towards more cloud-based services for businesses. Microsoft is even trying to get the software in some choice hands for a serious discount, as it did with the University of Nebraska. The big M is betting that having students using the software before they go out into the world will prove handy, and the school can act as a model for other universities considering 365.

Overall, Office 365 is a strong suite that can save money and help startups by giving them the same tools major enterprises have without having to invest in dedicated SharePoint and Outlook servers. Or if you’re a small business that has been looking to provide employees with an Office suite, Office 365 provides a low-cost alternative that lets you essentially rent Office.

If you’re unsure whether Office 365 is a good fit for your startup or small business, you could always give the 30-day free trial a shot. Perhaps you test both Office 365 and Google Apps with various employees to see how they respond. I’ll bet most prefer the familiarity and feature set of Office 365.