Skip to navigation
Real World Computing
Office 365

Why Office 365 is far more important than Windows 8

Posted on 31 Oct 2012 at 15:36

Jon Honeyball says Microsoft's decision to switch to a cloud subscription model makes the new version of Office the most revolutionary yet

New versions of Office tend to leave me cold nowadays. But then, I’m old enough to remember the days before Office had been forged out of a rather unholy alliance between Excel, Word and PowerPoint.

For those with very long memories, discussions about whether applications should have buttons that were 14 x 14 or 16 x 16 pixels ought to bring back nightmares. Since those pioneering days, Office has become bigger, more bloated and arguably more difficult to use for power users.

In the biggest change in the history of Office – actually since the original programs came together to create Office – Microsoft is going to offer Office on a rental model

I’m sure that some of the simpler and mid-level features are easier to use for beginners and intermediate users, but in latter years the whole edifice has taken on the appearance of an ageing Hollywood starlet wearing an embarrassing quantity of make-up, especially with the arrival of the ribbon bar in Office 2007. I’m still not comfortable with it, nor with the improved version in Office 2010, even after years of trying to like it. I guess I’m just too wedded to the old Office 2003 ways of doing things. I’ll gloss over the mess that was Office 2008 for Mac and accept that Office 2011 does a pretty good job, despite not supporting the new features of OS X 10.7 (such as Auto Save), let alone the new 10.8 that’s now shipping.

So why am I actually quite interested in the new version of Office for Windows? Well, first because it will be available on Windows RT – the ARM version of Windows 8 for touch-based tablets. To take a suite of heavyweight applications such as Office and ensure the code is clean enough to port to a different processor is no mean feat, and something that Microsoft didn’t manage in the 1990s with previous versions of Office.

Remember that we never did see Alpha, MIPS or PowerPC versions of Office back then; it was strictly 32-bit Intel Windows only. The arrival of 64-bit Office a while ago showed that the team was prepared to do the work necessary to clean up the situation for a non-Intel and non-32-bit future, and with the forthcoming RT version, it will be delivering on that commitment.

However, that isn’t the big issue. No, the issue is how Office will be made available to many users, especially to those in the home environment. Finally, Microsoft has brought its application virtualisation technology to Office, and this is a really big deal, since it means that Office applications can be delivered to customers through streaming online.

App virtualisation isn’t new – Microsoft’s technology was brought in several years ago and then made part of the server family, but getting it to work really effectively requires considerable skill and understanding of just what these apps are doing when you install them on a machine.

It certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted, and there’s much necessary reading to be done – Microsoft's guide to application virtualisation is only the starting point (after that, I suggest you read the The Definitive Guide to Delivering Microsoft Office with App-V.

However, all this hassle will be unnecessary with the new version of Office, since Microsoft has done the work for you, and is now going to package it for the end user. In the biggest change in the history of Office – actually since the original programs came together to create Office – Microsoft is going to offer Office on a rental model.

This is revolutionary. This reduces Windows to merely providing the OS bootstrap and base hardware services, with Office, email and so forth all being pulled in from the web. However, they won’t arrive only as web applications (although you’ll receive those Office Web Apps too), but as real native applications that are streamed, updated and looked after from the cloud. All of them are coupled to proper email storage on Exchange Server, and shared document storage through SkyDrive.

Just take a moment to let that sink in. You’ll log into an Office 365 account on a PC and your data will just appear in front of you, and your Office applications will be there too. In full-power versions, streamed from the cloud. Startup time for this technology is fast – a minute or so, depending on line speed, for a first install. After that, the code is on your machine anyway, so it’s instant.

How about roaming your account? Well, Microsoft says that each user will receive five installation points; in other words, you can install your data footprint on five different devices at one time.

Most of the Microsoft partners I’ve ever met frankly deserved to be cut out of the channel loop and sunk in a far wetter, saltier one – namely, the English Channel

Removal is easy, clean and painless – because the applications are wrapped in the virtualisation technology, there’s no intermingling or sharing of anything on the host machine, so you could have a new version of Excel running streamed from the internet alongside an older version of Excel with no clashes. Removal is only a case of revoking the licence and deleting the virtualisation files, with no need to start manually unpicking a whole heap of Registry nonsense.

I’ve been using Office 365 in my office for months now, and I feel obliged to keep repeating that it’s working extremely well. I can’t remember any outage lasting longer than a minute or two, and that was probably due to internet-routeing flaps anyway, and nothing to do with Microsoft’s data centres. I don’t have to worry about backup, upgrading, or any of the everyday worries you’re landed with when you run your own Exchange Server.

At the end of the day, I receive all of the goodness, power and capability with none of the unpleasantness. This is a purely cloud-hosted implementation, of course, and you can set up the Enterprise versions to allow a mixed on-site and cloud implementation if you want, which would be especially useful while making the transition from on-site to off-site storage.

Even as things currently stand, however, my advice to any small business running Small Business Server is simple: get out of Exchange Server as soon as possible and onto Office 365. With the announcement that this goodness is coming to the home market, too, we’re looking at an inflection point in the history of Microsoft, something far more important than Windows 8.

Of course, each account will be tied to a person, and in their eyes that will tie the account to their own personal email address, which means that a household with four users will need four accounts. Each of the five installation point licences for an account will be tied to the same user login; this means that you’ll be able to visit a friend’s house, log into Office 365 and then stream the latest Office applications down onto their machine if you want to do so (and you’d only need to do that if the cloud-based Office Web Apps weren’t strong enough for your current requirements). Once you’d done your work, you’d pull the locally cached streamed apps directly off your friend’s machine and decrease your licence count by one.

Of course, having five install points finally answers the old question of “how many machines can I install this software on?” in a clear fashion – for too long it’s appeared to be shrouded in controversy and confusion, despite Microsoft’s rules being quite clear. Under this new regime, you can install on five physical devices, so that should be simple enough to understand.

This move to a rental system is only part of a complete reframing of the business model that Microsoft uses. It means that all the revenue from Office sales will go directly into Microsoft’s own coffers, leaving the retail channel redundant and impotent (by channel, I’m referring to those warehouse box-shifters who seem to continually redefine the term “helpful expertise” in a downwards direction).

One other announcement that was made at the recent Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference is worth noting, too – partners that sell Office 365 to businesses will now be able to bill the customer directly for the service, rather than have this go straight back to Redmond. This is an important point, as shifting to a cloud services model could so easily mean cutting out those partners altogether.

Allow me one catty comment here: most of the Microsoft partners I’ve ever met frankly deserved to be cut out of the channel loop and sunk in a far wetter, saltier one – namely, the English Channel. However, it’s clear that Microsoft believes it still needs its partner model in order to succeed, and including them in the new Office 365 business model is a vital step in that direction.

So this new version of Office is one that I’m really looking forward to, because it provides new capabilities that are interesting to the market, and represents a monumental shake-up of Microsoft’s previous sales model.

Just think about those licences for full-box products that are sitting on your shelves collecting dust. Okay, you might well have used them as some sort of upgrade in the past, but with the move of Office to what is effectively a rental model, the transition from boxed product to online service will be complete.

Download a year of Jon Honeyball's Advanced Windows columns by heading to our Free Downloads site

Subscribe to PC Pro magazine. We'll give you 3 issues for £1 plus a free gift - click here
User comments

Alternatively

you could just install LibreOffice (takes only a couple of minutes, no 5 use limit and you don't need to remove it when you're done). If that's too heavyweight, try Google Apps for free.

By WebWomble on 31 Oct 2012

@WebWomble

Good point. You could even shared your documents between multiple devices using Dropbox or a similar service.
I would say Office 2010 is better than 2007, but I can't see any reason for upgrading in the future, and I think MS know this. Hence the subscription model to keep the revenue stream going.

By tirons1 on 1 Nov 2012

?

Which article did PC Pro post that complained that Windows 8 provided ZERO training for new uers? OF course it's been weeks so I cannot find... .

I found the posters thoughts quite silly as they were based on a preview and the final release featured a quick introduction with the full package, retail, including instructions. Just thought I'd point that out.

By rhythm on 1 Nov 2012

One subscription for the Entire Household

Good article. Although I am confused (still) on this : MSFT clearly has trumpeted "One Subscription for the Entire Household" paradigm. I even have the URL:
http://blogs.office.com/b/office-news/archive/2012
/09/17/the-new-office-365-subscriptions-for-consum
ers-and-small-businesses.aspx

This seems to contradict somewhat this article point on the same subject ?

By dbjdbj on 1 Nov 2012

Office on a Rental Model ?...

They've been doing Office on a subscription for a while.
We've been using the Open Value Subscription for 1-2 years now.

By JmLing on 1 Nov 2012

What's harder for power users?

What is supposed to be harder for power users in recent Office versions?

If you mean the Ribbon Bar, it's brilliant. Some people hate change.

By cooloox on 3 Nov 2012

What's harder for power users?

What is supposed to be harder for power users in recent Office versions?

If you mean the Ribbon Bar, it's brilliant. Some people hate change.

By cooloox on 3 Nov 2012

The bigger picture

I accept the subtelty of Microsoft moving to a subscrition model. The "million dollar" question for most businesses and individuals is "am I happy for Microsoft to own my data"?

By milliganp on 3 Nov 2012

I will stick with Office 2003; the supposed advantages of 2007 and 2010 have completely eluded me, and still cause me endless annoyance when I try to carry out the simplest of operations. That 'ribbon' is a disaster. What amazes me is the meek acceptance by the global business population when Microsoft imposes this sort of rubbish on them.

By Whiskybreath on 5 Nov 2012

COM integration ?

I've only glanced read this but what are the implications for COM based integration with office products ?

By MiniEggs on 5 Nov 2012

Great for first world internet connections, not so good elsewhere - could put a crimp in M$ turnover, unless of course this market isn't that important to them.

By JohnIScream on 5 Nov 2012

COM integration ?

I've only glanced read this but what are the implications for COM based integration with office products ?

By MiniEggs on 5 Nov 2012

COM integration ?

I've only glanced read this but what are the implications for COM based integration with office products ?

By MiniEggs on 5 Nov 2012

The price is crucial

As far as I'm aware MS has remained a bit tight-lipped about the UK prices for these products.

I'm currently running the 'Preview' on my PC, and the final version on my Surface.
I'm very happy to move to a subscription-based service, so long as I can afford it. The package of software & associated services is compelling.

I am already a convert to Hosted Exchange for email, ,so this is simply another step towards the goal of tight integration between all my digital devices and their contents, whether literal or virtual.

I do share various concerns about the location, security, confidentiality and 'ownership' of my data, but ultimately I suspect that it will simply be a trade-off between convenience and 'privacy'.

By wittgenfrog on 5 Nov 2012

I like "owning" rather than renting. Same with my TV - I buy rather than rent because unless you upgrade every year buying is usually cheaper.

Plus assuming I'm a home user - say a pensioner - on a limited monthly budget. I'd probably buy office once and make it last for the next 7 years - making it more cost effective than a subscription model.

Finally I don't trust the cloud! I use dropbox but not for anything I don't mind going public.

Come back in 10 years when everyone is on the cloud and I'll bet hacking and stealing of cloud data will be a regular event without some major security updates.

By cyberindie on 5 Nov 2012

Something else to think about is what happens if you fall on hard times?

Lets assume the world has moved to just a subscription only way of buying software. Each month your subscription bill is £250.

Suddenly you lose your job - money is tight - something has to give. Is it the heating and food? Or the MS Office subscription?

If you'd bought it outright when times were better and you had the money this won't be an issue.

But under a subscription model you can only keep wordprocessing as long as you keep up the payments....

By cyberindie on 5 Nov 2012

I have to agree about the data...

@milliganp has already made the point, but it's worth emphasizing it again. Cloud computing is all fine and dandy, but the status of data held on somebody else's servers is still very much in question. I am nervous of Google's amazing licensing terms in this respect, and see no reasons not to be nervous of Microsoft's as well. Now you could - not unreasonably - argue that billions of us trust third-party mail servers with our data, most often in non-encrypted format, with all sorts of commercially confidential goodies lurking in attachments in all kinds of formats. And this is a good point. But actually storing your stuff on Somebody Else's servers on a more-or-less permanent basis is a big step. And this is where I think Microsoft's Big Move is more than a little premature.

By MadaboutDana on 5 Nov 2012

@MadaboutDana

You don't have to use the cloud, you can still save locally and use the cloud as a back-up or sync between machines...

By big_D on 6 Nov 2012

Interesting ... and expensive: I'm passing

1. The app. streaming is great ... pity us mere consumers can't manipulate it ourselves.

2. The subscription price is lousy, amounting to an anual fee not much than purchasing Home and Student. Yes I know there are a few other goodies ... but the additional applications would rarely be used ... and have you got 5 power PC's in your household? Office 2007 has does me still. Still it might be good for some groups.

3. I am steering clear of subscriptions - it's a lock in strategy.

4. Contrary to a few other posters, I don't think your data HAS to ALL stay in the cloud. Indeed using Skydrive for work in progress ... and then moving to your archive sounds very useful.

Summary: the big issue is the subscription lock in. I'm passing. (I might go for the 'buy Office 2010 now and get one free Office 2013 later' offer, providing I keep 2 Office 2010's and one Office 2013).

By Jacko55 on 6 Nov 2012

Interesting ... and expensive: I'm passing

1. The app. streaming is great ... pity us mere consumers can't manipulate it ourselves.

2. The subscription price is lousy, amounting to an anual fee not much than purchasing Home and Student. Yes I know there are a few other goodies ... but the additional applications would rarely be used ... and have you got 5 power PC's in your household? Office 2007 has does me still. Still it might be good for some groups.

3. I am steering clear of subscriptions - it's a lock in strategy.

4. Contrary to a few other posters, I don't think your data HAS to ALL stay in the cloud. Indeed using Skydrive for work in progress ... and then moving to your archive sounds very useful.

Summary: the big issue is the subscription lock in. I'm passing. (I might go for the 'buy Office 2010 now and get one free Office 2013 later' offer, providing I keep 2 Office 2010's and one Office 2013).

By Jacko55 on 6 Nov 2012

Interesting ... and expensive: I'm passing

1. The app. streaming is great ... pity us mere consumers can't manipulate it ourselves.

2. The subscription price is lousy, amounting to an anual fee not much than purchasing Home and Student. Yes I know there are a few other goodies ... but the additional applications would rarely be used ... and have you got 5 power PC's in your household? Office 2007 has does me still. Still it might be good for some groups.

3. I am steering clear of subscriptions - it's a lock in strategy.

4. Contrary to a few other posters, I don't think your data HAS to ALL stay in the cloud. Indeed using Skydrive for work in progress ... and then moving to your archive sounds very useful.

Summary: the big issue is the subscription lock in. I'm passing. (I might go for the 'buy Office 2010 now and get one free Office 2013 later' offer, providing I keep 2 Office 2010's and one Office 2013).

By Jacko55 on 6 Nov 2012

Help wanted !

Jon said,'Since those pioneering days, Office has become bigger, more bloated and arguably more difficult to use for power users.'

Spot on. Word - which was never good (just google 'Word Irish Elk'), but tolerable - has now become a hackers' paradise. As one of the reviews of 2007 said, 'Styles, which have always had issues, are now broken for ever.' Personally I've spent years getting styles to behave predictably as I deal with very large complex documents; every version of Word has changed the way they work. 2003 introduced 'Table Styles' which were quickly dismissed as 'They needn't have bothered'.

The Ribbon is a disaster for power users - it contains loads of junk you'll never need, unless your a hacker and prefer to locally format rather than design a document with consistency in mind.

For years I've used floating toolbars with all the commands I need at one click of a mouse. Sadly I've been unable to reproduce that in any of the open source type equivalents.

Then there's the instability - pictures jumping about from page to page every time you open the document. Send a complex document to a friend - get him to open it and send it back with no changes. It won't be the same document.

Then there's Excel. As one ex-Microsoft programmer wrote, 'Have you noticed the way the clipboard works in Excel is different from any other MS product?' Why? I've lost count of the number of macros I've had to write to make Excel behave as any sensible person would want and expect it to function

After 30 years in software, desperately looking for a viable alternative.

By Acorner on 6 Nov 2012

Churn

That's the goal of Microsoft since Bill took a back seat. Balmer is a stooge to his CFO,and shareholders.

I agree with Mr Honeyball that Office really peeked at 2003, then has begun a bloated and steady decline.

Open Office now safely nestled in the Apache stable after being kicked around by SUn and Oracle is starting to get some momentum behind it.

The Ribbon, the recent switch to lo-fi windows 8 interfaces all represent logic U-turns performed only to give the impression of change or improvement and to prep for easy network transfer and replication in the cloud.

I don't dislike where Microsft is trying to get to with cloud subscriptions, but we all know the price is going to be a little too greedy for most user's comfort.

The biggest gain for Microsft with subsctiption based services will be finally gaining the upper hand on the pirates duplicating and profiteering from VLK copies of Office.

Hacking in the cloud, ABSOLUTELY INEVITABLE.

I'm sure if you read the terms of service they will have already covered themselves so you cant sue when it all falls down.

By Gindylow on 7 Nov 2012

The cloud

I laugh when I hear about people not trusting the Cloud. For all of our lives we're happy to save our money with banks and trust that their statements sent to us are honest and true. We no longer own bank books, we trust electronic input.How many people check these, really? Why is the Cloud any different?

By Patricu1 on 17 Nov 2012

^^Patricu1

On a base level if you find it so funny you have nothing to worry about?

The root of the problem doesn't lie in the electronic nautre of Cloud transactions, or for that matter banking transactions.

It relies on the vulnerabilities and holes which inevtiably will be found in the security models at all the usual levels...for both the public or the private cloud the complexity and diversity of what machines and networks can be running is huge, and the human element of usernames and passwords comes into the mix with social engineering.

Much of "the cloud" will be dark, and not publicly visible on the Net so less exposed to risk but not immune.

To think that the Cloud wont be compromised at some time and in some way is like thinking that the DNS system, or your ISP cannot be hacked, which would be false, it happens regularly.

In terms of "trust" your concerns about breach will relate to what if anything you choose to put on it either on a personal level, or an employer's level, or indirecty what if any of your information will end up on the cloud as a result of interations with other companies and agencies.

By Gindylow on 18 Nov 2012

Leave a comment

You need to Login or Register to comment.

(optional)

Jon Honeyball

Jon Honeyball

Jon is one of the UK's most respected IT journalists and a contributing editor to PC Pro since it launched in 1994. He specialises in Microsoft technologies, including client/server and office automation applications.

Read more More by Jon Honeyball

advertisement

Most Commented Real World Articles
Latest Real World Computing
Latest Blog Posts Subscribe to our RSS Feeds
Latest News Stories Subscribe to our RSS Feeds
Latest ReviewsSubscribe to our RSS Feeds

advertisement

Sponsored Links
 
SEARCH
Loading
WEB ID
SIGN UP

Your email:

Your password:

remember me

advertisement


Hitwise Top 10 Website 2010
 
 

PCPro-Computing in the Real World Printed from www.pcpro.co.uk

Register to receive our regular email newsletter at http://www.pcpro.co.uk/registration.

The newsletter contains links to our latest PC news, product reviews, features and how-to guides, plus special offers and competitions.