REVIEW: Office 365 – Is it the Answer?

The video above is purportedly a ‘leaked’ internal video from a Microsoft Office 365 marketing conference. The intention seemed to be to stir up the marketing teams and get them to really sell Microsoft’s new online service offering. The video insinuates that Google’s Gmail mailman is reading everyone’s secrets, snickering about them, and then targeting ads based on the contents of e-mails.

The video has caused quite a bit of discussion online, which it was clearly designed to do, and as a result we wanted to take a first hand look at Office 365 to get a feel for it’s features and functionality as compared to other alternatives.

Just the Basics

Microsoft has needed to compete in the cloud productivity scene since Google Docs launched in 2007. Just a few years later, Google now dominates this space due to their solution’s high portability between devices, the power of its suite of tools, and its tight integration with other established Google services.

But while Google may own the cloud productivity space, in the wilds of the corporate world Microsoft Office is king. Their desktop suite is known for stability, power and ease of use. It only stands to reason that, with so many applications making the jump to the cloud and taking advantage of the benefits that it lends, Microsoft would follow suit.

They’ve finally thrown their hat into the ring in the form of Office 365 and our first look was a bit underwhelming.

 

Word

So let’s start off big here. Next to Excel, Word is Microsoft’s bread and butter. They have one of the most well-designed, polished and powerful word processing tools on the market. It is the industry standard. So how does the Office 365 version stack up?

I feel like I should preface by saying that I began writing this review using the Office 365 implementation of Word, but as I was going for a second compulsory save as I am wont to do the web app crashed on me. Not only did I lose the work that I had not yet saved, but everything else! And I was further than this point in the review.

As it stands I am rewriting this now in standard, desktop Word. I do not plan on letting that color the rest of my outlook as I write this, but the stability is absolutely worth mentioning. I tried 365 in Internet Explorer, Chrome and Firefox. Of all of the browsers, I found 365 to be the most stable in Firefox but it did fail on me there once as well.

This version of Word does serve its purpose as a basic word processing app but has about as much power and functionality as WordPad. The formatting options are very, very basic along with everything else about it. I am assuming this was an attempt to make the app as nimble as possible.The desktop version is widely known to have a very bulky code base.

It does at least have a decent selection of fonts to choose from. You are given the basics like Clip Art and tables but there are strange omissions such as header themes and line spacing. You will see that this is a recurring theme with all of the offerings from this suite. All in all, this passes as a basic word processor, but I see no reason to leave Google Docs for this.

 

Excel

Microsoft’s spreadsheet software, Excel, is by far one of the best pieces of software they have ever produced. I would almost give it complete credit for my passing a Statistics course recently, it’s that solid. But this offering, much like the Word implementation is really just a highly diluted version of its parent.

 

Office 365’s Excel is quite simply disappointing. There is so much potential here! This could be the next great iteration on an already great product. This could be the software that helps carry Microsoft into the future that is cloud computing. But it just simply isn’t even usable for what most people need spreadsheet software for.

It’s lacking formulas, functions, and even graphing. These are fundamental components of modern spreadsheet software. These are things that people in the day to day corporate world need. Corporate entities are their intended customers. If it’s just a matter of these things not working well enough in the cloud then they really should have waited to put this into production.

 

PowerPoint

Here we find more confusing omissions and highly limited functionality. Most of you know PowerPoint presentations from school or work as those things that make you really sleepy. But dig them or not, PowerPoint is a big deal. Most of the presentations I have ever given or been privy to were made with PowerPoint.

 

When you start a new PowerPoint project in 365, you are greeted with a very basic menu of layouts for slides. Nine to be exact. From here you are given extremely limited options for creating and formatting a presentation.  There are no themes to spice up the presentation, no slick transition animations (understandable), not even a way to solid fill backgrounds. And oddly enough, there is no option for ClipArt here. Strange considering it was available in the 365 version of Word.

One thing that you do have here is SmartArt. These are basically info-graphics that take data and represent it in visually dynamic ways. That being said it will all still be presented on a white background with black borders, no transition effects and very basic colored text.

 

OneNote

OneNote is a tool that allows a user to collect different types of information together and share them with other users. There is not much here that is different from the desktop version really, it functions essentially the same. You can save images, typed notes, links to web pages, etc. It is actually the most faithful recreation out of the whole suite.

 

Hopes for the Future

I really wanted this product to be more than it is. I use Office on a daily basis at work, at school and when writing. Having a full implementation of it in the cloud would be amazing. But as it stands now this product is almost unusable due to stability issues and a lack of power.

The take home here is that it has real potential to be great. I hope to see this updated soon and given greater functionality but right now I don’t think the $6/user/month asking price is justifiable.

Have you tried Office 365 yet? If not, hit this link to try it free for 30 days. If so, what did you think?

Comments

  1. Ben says

    What is missing from this review is a review of what makes Office 365 different from Google Docs. The web apps are a small part of Office 365 offerings, and if you look at the price point differences, a part that Microsoft does not believe it can sell very well. As far as I know, Google Docs does not offer a document management system like Sharepoint, or a virtual e-mail server.

    My guess is that most people considering implementing Office 365 are concerned with managing their organization’s documents and e-mails, rather than with the functionality of the web applications compared to the desktop applications. This article is a bit misleading in its concentration on the web applications that correspond to the common desktop applications, since that is not the entirety of Office 365.

  2. says

    Office 365 Enterprise has all of the functionality you want. They include the desktop editions of all of the Microsoft apps, plus the exchange hosting along with E-mail in legally compliant archived mode on Exchange, and full-featured SharePoint 2010. With hybrid services using Windows Small Business Server 2011, there are no outages for users to experience at all…nor a chance for data loss.

    • Profile photo of Leland Flynn says

      Martin, to be clear. Office 365 does not offer full, desktop implementations of the Office suite in the cloud. Period. The web apps are stripped down, lightweight versions of their desktop offerings. And I can attest to the possibility of data loss personally. Considering that the product is relatively new I am not sure how one could state that it is impossible for outages to occur as that is most certainly a patently false statement.

      All that being said, I do think that this product has a very real potential to be a great offering. Given time, iteration and the inclusion of very necessary but currently missing tools and functionality, I do believe that Office 365 could be worth the asking price and represent a real value to the consumer/enterprise markets.

  3. Isaac Taylor (@Isaac_Taylor) says

    The video didn’t phase me. Facebook does the same thing only worse! Google has a free app suite in the cloud. Advertising is a price many people are willing to pay for free applications.

  4. says

    I’m not thrilled about Office365’s webapps, but the sellilng point for me was hosted Exchange e-mail for my domain, which works seamlessly with Outlook and my Windows Phone, and gives me a reasonably complete webmail experience. I’m a bit of a Microsoft fanboy, but not enough of one to defend the webapps. Hopefully they’ll get better.

  5. says

    Who would have thought we would have seen the day that Microsoft tries to stand on moral high-ground? With ads as non-intrusive as google’s I am ok with a free, ad based product. And technically, Office is reading your stuff to, to do grammar and spell checks.