Office 365 or Microsoft 365, as some refer to it, is an online suite of applications that closely mirror the Microsoft Office suite. All of the same products available in Office are also available in Office 365. Still, it is so much more than just Office, which is why it’s sometimes referred to as Microsoft 365 as depending upon your subscription, you will have most of Microsoft’s applications as a service. Software as a service is becoming the de facto standard for software delivery over the past few years as it allows companies to level out their revenue stream. Many of the larger corporations and even many smaller software companies now use this model for software delivery. Expect it to become more prevalent as more and more of the software consumption takes place on mobile devices. Other companies such as Google with Google for classrooms are offering similar products, but Microsoft has the most robust suite of productivity type applications.
Microsoft 365 Versions of Office 365
There are multiple versions fo Office 365 depending upon your use case. There are various versions for Home users, Enterprise, and our favorite Office 365 for Education. You can read about the releases, determine the cost, and features for the Home and business versions here. The rest of this article will only deal with the features available in Office 365 for Education version. This release is only available to Educational institutions at a price of Zero. Educational Institutions can obtain Office 365 at no cost for students, faculty, and staff. You need to sign up. If your educational institution has an enterprise agreement with Microsoft( most do), then you can even get additional features for your students, faculty, and staff.
List of Microsoft 365 applications for Education
Follows is the list of the various features available in Office 365 for educational institutions as of January 2016. The offerings are always changing, but it’s still adding new features and capabilities, so this list may not be all-inclusive by the time you read this. The following graphic shows the characteristics of each plan. The Office 365 Education plan is the standard licenses, and Office 365 Education Plus is for those institutions that have an enterprise agreement. Necessarily the these are the same, but with the plus plan your students, faculty, and staff can download full versions of Office and install on their personal computers, including mobile devices.
- Exchange Online – Exchange Online is a full version of the modern exchange environment for providing email and calendaring functionality. This is the oldest part of Office 365 for Education and can trace its roots back to [email protected], which is where this suite of products started. Exchange Online is hosted in the Azure data centers and is also part of Azure Active Directory. On-premise Exchange installations can not function without Active Directory, and this version is no different. This is a robust platform, and many organizations use Exchange for their email now. Microsoft even uses this version of Exchange for its internal communications.
- Skype for Business – Skype became popular in the mid-2000s like a peer to peer messaging/voice solution. It became so popular that Microsoft purchased the company in 2011 for over 8 billion dollars. It wasn’t clear at first what Microsoft planned to do with the platform, but it has now been integrated with their Linc messaging system and is part of Office 365. If you have not tried out Skype, you should check it out as it is powerful and can reduce the cost of doing business as it has many of the same features you would expect from a Voice over IP system at a fraction of the cost.
- Sharepoint Online – SharePoint is a content management system that can be used to disseminate information to your users. Sharepoint also has an on-premise server, and while the Online SharePoint does not have all the capabilities( It has them they do not expose them to you), it can meet the needs of the majority of users for distributing information. Faculty can create SharePoint sites for their students or just as a personal site for distributing various information within your tenant.
- OneDrive -One Drive is a file storage platform that you can use to have your files available in the cloud from where ever. There are mobile device versions as well as desktops. If you have an internet connection, you can get to your files. Currently, the amount of storage provides for free is one terabyte, but it’s soon going to 5 terabytes of storage per user. This should meet the needs of even the most data-hungry user, and also the five terabytes can be increased on a per-user basis with a request.
- Yammer – Yammer is a social network for your institution and can be used as a part of your educational offerings. It is very similar to the interface you find on Facebook and works much the same way. The difference is the data is only available to users within your tenant, so you can have an internal sharing of ideas while maintaining privacy for your organization.
- Microsoft Office Online – Microsoft Office Online is the Office suite in the cloud. This includes Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and OneNote. If you have the Plus license, you can also download full desktop or mobile versions of these Microsoft Office and have them activated on up to 5 different devices. This is available on personal computers as well as institution-owned devices. These applications are also available for Macintosh and other Apple devices, so you do not leave your Mac people out either.
- Microsoft Project Online – Microsoft project is another excellent application in the Microsoft Office suite. It works well for setting up projects and maintaining deliverables throughout the process. Project Online is included as part of Office 365 and allows organizations to collaborate on projects internally. Microsoft Project does have a bit of a learning curve, and you need to understand Project management lingo, but it is a great application and can keep you on task when managing both large and small projects.
- eDiscovery Hold/Export, DLP – In today’s world of litigation, organizations must be able to archive email and other digital communications. This is where the EDiscovery Hold features are essential. These features in Office 365 allow you to set retention dates on email and also provides for an EDiscovery to take place if needed. By default, Exchange Online offers 50 gigs of email space per user, so most users will not need to delete an older email. Regardless this hold feature allows you to maintain copies of the mail for 5, ten years, or every how long your retention periods say you need to keep copies.
- Analytics – This is a data-driven world, and businesses must have access to analytical data. Office 365 for Education allows institutions to run analytics reports on how data and resources are being consumed and make it a lot easier for management to tie functions to data and also to find where abuse may be happening.
- Voicemail Support – This is an add-on feature where you can have your voicemail hosted in your Office 365 environment if required. The ease of use and keeping it all tied together for the purpose of having unified communications is an effective manner of handling email. It also makes it possible to do eDiscovery on these communications. This is an extra cost and is not part of the free Office 365 for Education offers.
- Rights Management – Rights management allows you to set controls on who can read certain documents or emails. This is an added layer of security, and something most organizations should be using anyway. In a situation where student data may be involved, no one should be sending emails with this information outside the organization. In some cases, not everyone in the organization needs to be able to see this data. With rights management, you can control whether emails or documents are shared with other individuals that you may not have intended.
Microsoft also offers multiple services to help you get off the ground with Office 365. There are training resources for your faculty and staff, as well as materials you can use to communicate the changes involved with going to Office 365 in your educational environment. They offer a Fast track service, which is usually free for educational institutions to get your mail and other data migrated to the Office 365 environment.
Microsoft implementation engineers will work with you and help you migrate from Exchange or other cloud-based systems such as Google Applications for Education if that is your goal. We are not going to debate, which is better between Office 365 for Education and Google Apps for Education as both platforms have their good points and limitations. It’s really up to you to determine which suite of products will help your institution best serve its students and the college community.
As you can tell, this is a compelling suite Microsoft provides with 365. Since it’s free for educational institutions, there is no reason for schools not to take advantage. In many cases, Microsoft will even provide technical resources to help you get migrated to Office 365. Sometimes there are costs associated with the technical support, but depending upon your agreement, it may be free. The best way to find out is to pick up the phone and ask your Microsoft sales representative.
Hopefully, this will give you an idea of what is office 365 and will provide you with some ideas on how you can use it within your educational institution to improve your educational offerings.