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Every business needs a handful of tools: email, calendar, live chat, to-do lists, documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and file sharing. There's a wide range of software for each of those categories—or for most of them, you could just install Office and take care of everything at once.
Today's Microsoft Office 365 is one of the most comprehensive all-in-one suites your team could use. It includes the email server from Exchange, the file sharing and collaboration from Sharepoint, traditional desktop Office apps including Word and Excel, Skype, and new tools to manage projects, tasks, team chat, and more. Instead of installing Exchange and Sharepoint on your in-house servers, then installing Office on each team member's PC, Office 365 gives you everything in one detailed online suite.
Today, every Office app—from Word, Excel, and the other applications you install on your PC to Exchange, Sharepoint, and other server-based tools—is part of Office 365. The core features work from your browser, and for everything else, you can still install traditional Office apps on your Mac and PC. It also includes new mobile apps for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Outlook on the go.
The core Office 365 plans (Business Essentials and Business Premium) both include email, calendar, sites, and other features you'd expect from Exchange and Sharepoint. These options let you add your own domain names to Office 365 to manage your email and calendars professionally. You can check email and add events online in the Outlook Online interface, or sync them to Outlook on your computer or any other Exchange, IMAP, or POP3 compatible email tools. Office 365 includes advanced online tools, too, so you can send vacation replies, sort email automatically, schedule appointments based on when your Outlook calendar has free time, and more. The new Clutter tool can be especially handy: it watches your inbox for new email messages that aren't likely important to you, and moves them to a separate folder to help you focus on the most important email messages.
There are also new, web-focused apps that come exclusively with Office 365, including Sway for a new way to make presentations, Planner and To-Do for projects, Outlook Customer Manager for a CRM, StaffHub for scheduling, Bookings to manage appointments, and Microsoft Teams for team chat. Microsoft has added a number of these apps over time for extra features in Office 365. Then, it's added acquired apps, including Skype, Yammer, and LinkedIn, for a comprehensive suite of newer business apps alongside traditional Office tools.
If you just want Office software on your computers and OneDrive online to sync files, the Business plan offers just that for a more collaborative option than traditional boxed Office software. With that—or either of the earlier plans—you can sync files from your computer and share them online with your team, or use Office Online to view and edit Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations from your browser. You'll also find new Office Add-ins to connect your files to other popular software, to automatically gather data in Excel spreadsheets and then have it synced back to your computer with OneDrive.
No matter which Office 365 plan you choose, you can manage each of your users from the Office 365 online portal, where you can see how many copies of Office are installed, how much storage is being used, and more. And, if you need more features, upgrading is only a click away.
Traditional boxed Office was easy to install once—but collaborating or using Office on multiple computers was always a pain. With Office 365, you can get the software you need for your business, along with hosted email, calendars, websites and more to collaborate with your team—and without ever having to manage an Exchange server on your own. You'll get all the same features, with far less trouble. And thanks to new Office Add-Ins, you'll be able to get more done and bring other new tools into your workflow even more easily.
For more info about other Microsoft Office tools included with Office 365, check out these other reviews:
Originally published April 22, 2016; updated June 5, 2018 with new screenshots and features.