There has been a lot of hype surrounding Microsoft’s Office 365, almost impossible to miss it. You might be considering Office 365 for yourself or your organisation or, maybe, one of your clients might have asked you if it would work for them. In many instances Office 365 can be perfect but before you hand over your card details here’s a checklist of the Office 365 basics to help you make up your mind.

Microsoft’s cloud incarnation of Office connects you via the internet to service all your Excel, Word, PowerPoint needs, but is the hype more fog than cloud?

Firstly, it’s wonderfully simple to set up. You set up an account, make your payment, download the files, and you’re up and running. There are no installation discs to put somewhere safe – and then lose. Some of the functionality is really sexy, yes even the spreadsheets. But it’s not right for everyone.

Here’s an initial ABC test of whether it’s right for you:

  1.  Access All Areas

Does it matter to you that you can work from more than one location. Does work not stop when you leave the office? Cloud access to all your Office files allows you to work with greater flexibility.

  1.  BYOD

Do you use a variety of devices to access Microsoft Office files? Increasingly important in the age of Bring Your Own Device. Office 365 allows access to spreadsheets and word documents from a large variety of different devices.

  1.  Current Version

If having the most up to date, current version of Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint matters to you (and especially if your IT estate supports many users) 365 is perfect. Office 365 keeps itself up to date.

Sounds good, but before signing up, it’s worth taking time to assess where your IT is at now. There are some basic system requirements that might necessitate an upgrade which can be quite costly. Office 365 requires Windows 7 or 8. If you haven’t upgraded from XP yet, you’re not alone, but if the impending suspension of support for XP hasn’t been the incentive you need, perhaps the increased functionality of 365 will be. 365 supports Mac users too and you’ll need OS X 10.6 (or later).

Of course, you’ll also need Internet access to install and activate Office 365 and when it’s up and running to manage your subscription so you need to check that your browser is current enough to run 365. If you’re running Internet Explorer 9, Firefox 12, Safari 5, or Chrome 18 then the good news is that your browser is compatible.

So all good so far?

What about your hardware? On some systems 365 can run really slow so at the very least, you’re going to need;

  • 1GHz processor
  • 2GB of RAM for 64-bit systems (1 GB of RAM if you’re running 32-bit)
  • 3GB of available PC hard disk space
  • Mac users will need 2.5GB and an Intel processor.

Clearly, if you’re running older systems and hardware, you might have to significantly invest in upgrading your IT before you can move to Office 365.

So Is It Worth It?

Well … let’s take a look at what you get. As you’d expect, what you get depends on the plan you choose, in other words, how much you’re willing to pay. The majority of PC plans include Outlook, Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Access, OneNote, and although most people never use it – Publisher.

The Mac business plans are a little more restricted and as I write this don’t include Publisher, OneNote or Access, but that could change – after all how could anyone live without Publisher? Your subscription also comes with storage on SkyDrive, free website hosting, and landline calls through Skype.

Office 365 files are compatible with Office 2010 and 2013 and with some loss of functionality with Office 2007. Anything older and you’ll be struggling but you can share files with others who don’t have Office by saving Office 2013 files to SkyDrive and inviting recipients to view them. They won’t don’t need a SkyDrive account or Office to view files on SkyDrive (but will need an invitation).

Is It Safe?

That is the most commonly asked question, not just about 365 but ANY cloud technology. At user-level Office 365 offers you the same security options as the desktop version. RMS (Rights Management Service) allows encryption, intercepted transmissions should not be readable by unauthorised personnel and you can set permissions.

Your files are saved in secure data centres, Microsoft takes security very seriously so chances are as a small to medium businesses, Office 365 will offer better security than your current systems. In conclusion, Microsoft 365 could be the best thing for your business but it might be worth exploring other options that might deliver better results for you.