Microsoft Office 365 for Education review

4 Nov 2011

Office 365 brings useful services within the reach of every school, but might not always fit educational requirements

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As businesses continue to question whether they’re ready for the cloud, school leaders are asking themselves the same thing.

ICT budgets, like all others, are being squeezed and the potential cost savings from external hosting, facilitating the use of student-owned devices and reducing expenditure on computer suites, are appealing.

Resilience and security are just as important, though, and recent high-profile leaks of confidential data and subsequent service outage remain at the forefront of many people’s minds.

It’s against this backdrop that Microsoft is poised to launch its cloud-based office and collaboration solution into the education sector.

Called Office 365 for Education, the basic service brings together email, document sharing and collaboration tools, while a more expensive plan includes cut-back, web-based versions of the primary Office applications.

Providing it mirrors the Enterprise versions, as Microsoft claims, the top-level subscription will also include a full licence for Office 2010 Professional Plus.

At first glance, Office 365 appears to be more evolutionary than revolutionary, in the main bringing together tools that have previously been released under other names. Schools already using the Live@Edu service are likely to find the Office 365 services particularly familiar.

Microsoft faces tough competition, however. Google has established itself in the education marketplace, offering an ever-growing number of free, web-based applications that have proved innovative and reliable enough for many learners and educators to embrace wholeheartedly.

It’s clear from its marketing material that Microsoft hopes the familiarity of the Office 365 interface will claw these defectors back.

Exchange Online

Outlook Calendar in Office 365

At the core of Office 365 is Exchange Online, offering email, a calendar tool and contacts with built-in antivirus and anti-spam protection.

For schools not yet using Exchange, it provides an easy way to introduce the industry standard solution, and for those that already do, there are benefits of pushing their data into the cloud. All users are, for example, provided with a generous 25GB mailbox and 25MB limit for attachments.

Exchange Online provides a multitude of ways to access your data. To access the full range of functions and features, it’s best to connect through the Outlook 2007 or 2010 applications, either from home or in school, but the Outlook Web App provides a surprisingly feature-rich experience through any browser.

Smartphone and tablet users are well catered for, too – an important consideration if students don’t have access to a dedicated machine during, or outside of, the school day. In our tests, the service works superbly on the iPhone and iPad, through both the built-in applications and the browser, allowing us to read, create and edit emails, contacts and calendar events.

Recent announcements from Microsoft and RIM suggest that a similar level of functionality may soon be available to BlackBerry users, with a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) included free as part of Office 365.

While students are most likely to focus on the communication elements of Exchange, the power of the calendar tool as an organisational tool shouldn’t be overlooked.

Arranging meetings is a breeze, either using the built-in scheduling assistant or by overlaying the calendars of colleagues to identify potential times.

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Details

Price inc VAT PREVIEW (price to be confirmed)
Software subcategory Office software

Requirements

Processor requirement N/A

Operating system support

Operating system Windows Vista supported? yes
Operating system Windows XP supported? yes
Operating system Linux supported? no
Operating system Mac OS X supported? yes

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