Happy Birthday, Office 365

Happy Birthday, Office 365

An incredible year for an incredible set of subscription services

One year ago this week, Microsoft launched Office 365 Home Premium, with new-generation business versions of the product following shortly thereafter. Office 365 is a tremendous value, of course, but it's more than that. When I look back on the past year, it's clear that Office 365 serves as a model for the rest of Microsoft to follow as it transitions from on-premises technology solutions to cloud services.

Why is Office 365 so important?

For starters, it's Office. And when I write Office there, I mean all of Office. Not just the end-user software suite that you install on your PCs and, now, mobile devices, but also the hugely successful Exchange, SharePoint and Lync servers—two of which are billion-dollar businesses in their own right—and the growing online components, which include the Office Web Apps and the Office 365 subscription services.

Office is the most consistently useful and used software that's ever been created. For Microsoft, it's one of its biggest product lines—arguably the biggest, depending on how you measure such things—one that spans both consumer and business customers and is both necessary to and well-liked by those customers.

There are contenders to the Office throne, and I've tried them all and judge them to be pretenders. I do this as a matter of pragmatism: I need to be productive and stay productive every single day, like most of you, and Office plays a huge role there, on the PC, with the Word and OneNote applications that stay open all day long, in the cloud, with the SkyDrive and SkyDrive Pro services I use to store all of my important data, both personal and professional, and in the cross-discipline technologies—like PC syncing of that data—that brings both sides together in a cohesive and seamless whole.

Office 365, as the main online component of the Office family, grew unexpectedly out of humble beginnings. The Office 365 we know today on the business side—Office 365 Small Business, Small Business Premium and the Enterprise and other related versions—derives from a set of services that debuted back in mid-2011. But the beginnings of this service really date back to the original Business Online Productivity Suite (BPOS) offering, an unfortunately named product that skewed a bit too much towards bigger businesses with bigger budgets.

As BPOS evolved into Office 365, something wonderful happened. Prices dropped. A version for small businesses was added. And then 2013 came and Microsoft released Office 365 Home Premium—for consumers, especially families with multiple PCs—and expanded the business offerings.

Actually, prices dropped isn't exactly right. It's fairer to say that licensing improved dramatically. With a 2012-era Office 365 subscription for small businesses, Office 365 Small Business, you could pay $6 per month per user for access to Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync from PCs, phones, and via the web. But you'd need to acquire Office separately. And back in the pre-Office 2013 days, that meant you basically only had the old-school ways of doing so.

With Office 365 circa-2013 and the expansion of the available product editions, Microsoft added incredibly affordable and loose licensing of its desktop-based Office products on both PC and Mac. That is, with Office 365 Home Premium ($99 per year), you can install Office 2013 for Windows (and/or Office 2011 for Mac) on up to 5 PCs in your household. So everyone can have a copy. And on the small business front, Microsoft added an Office 365 Small Business Premium SKU that takes everything from the previous Small Business version and adds the ability to install Office 2013 for Windows (and/or Office 2011 for Mac) on up to 5 PCs per user as well. The cost? $15 per user per month.

But it's not just Office.

And it's not just Office on multiple PCs. It's Office Mobile and numerous Office mobile apps on Windows Phone, iPhone and Android handsets. It's Office mobile apps for Windows 8/RT, including OneNote and Lync and several others. It's Office Web Apps. It's Office on Demand, so you can stream Office application to any PC from Office.com. It's SkyDrive for consumers and SkyDrive Pro for businesses. It's Outlook.com and Skype for consumers and Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online for businesses. It's extra SkyDrive storage and Skype calling minutes (for Home Premium).

And, you know, it's more than all that too. It's constant and regular improvements to all of these products, including the PC software, over the lifetime of the subscription, including new product versions if and when they are released.

Which is the interesting bit. Since releasing Office 365 one year ago, what has Microsoft done to keep up to its end of the bargain? Have these services improved, improved enough to justify keeping up with your subscription?

Oh my, yes.

And I can prove it. Here are just some of the Office 365-related articles (for both Home Premium and business users) that I published in 2013, articles that are related to functional changes and additions only.

Microsoft Provides Free Office 2013 Quick Start Guides

Confused by the new features and interfaces in Office 2013? Well, this series of helpful Quick Start Guides from Microsoft should help. There are nine in all, and they step you through transitioning from an older Office versions to the latest versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, Access, Project, and Visio.

SkyDrive Update: Editing No Longer Requires a Microsoft Account

Microsoft announced another update to its SkyDrive cloud storage service, and this one answers a major customer request: The Office Web Apps, which provide web-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, no longer require you to sign-in with a Microsoft account to edit shared documents.

Office and SharePoint 2013 Developer Tools Now Available

Microsoft announced today that the Office Developer Tools for Visual Studio 2012 are now available, allowing developers to create apps that target Office 2013, SharePoint 2013 and Office 365. Developers can also optionally create apps for Office via the web using a technology previously codenamed “Napa.”.

Office 2013 Retail Copies Now Transferrable to Second PC

In the face of mounting criticism, Microsoft has reversed an onerous condition of its retail Office 2013 license agreement and will now allow customers to transfer the software to a second PC. The move should satisfy the complaints though it will ironically impact relatively few customers.

Microsoft Sweetens Office 365 Deal for Students

In tandem with its launch of Office 365 Home Premium for consumers, Microsoft also launched an Office 365 University subscription for students that provides four years of service at an incredible price. But this week, the firm sweetened the deal even further, offering students the chance to get up to six months for free.

Lync 2013 for Windows Phone 8

Microsoft has released a major update to its Lync app for Windows Phone. The new version, Lync 2013, only runs on Windows Phone 8 and provides voice and video conferencing capabilities for users with Lync Server or Lync Online accounts through Office 365.

Lync Expands with Video Interoperability, AT&T Support

A month after the first-ever Lync Conference, Microsoft is announcing new development for its business-oriented communications platform. Lync will expand to support new third-party video teleconferencing vendors over the next 18 months, and AT&T is adding Lync to its Unified Communications (UC) portfolio of collaboration solutions.

OneNote App for Windows 8/RT Improved for Touch

The OneNote mobile app for Windows 8 and RT has received a major update this week that should be of interest to tablet fans: It now natively supports touch in addition to a pen or stylus. This means you can use your finger to paint or draw on the screen.

Office Web Apps to Improve with Android Editing and Real-Time Coauthoring

In keeping with its vow to regularly update its various Office offerings, Microsoft this week announced some major changes coming soon to the Office Web Apps, the free web-based versions of four key Office applications. Among the changes, the Office Web Apps will be extended to support document editing from Android Tablets and real time co-authoring.

SkyDrive Pro for Windows Now Available

Microsoft announced this week that the SkyDrive Pro client for Windows is now available for download, providing customers with a way to automatically sync their SharePoint 2013- and SharePoint Online-based SkyDrive Pro and Team Site document libraries with their PCs. Previously, this capability was only available bundled with Office 2013.

Microsoft Announces First Step in Skype/Lync Interoperability

Microsoft today announced that it has completed the first steps towards pervasive interoperability between Skype and Lync. In this initial stage, the firm has enabled contact federation and audio calling and instant messaging between the two services.

In Blue: Outlook 2013 RT

As previously reported, Microsoft had created a version of Outlook for Windows RT but didn't ship it in the original release of the OS because of reliability and performance problems. But those issues are fixed, and now Outlook 2013 RT will be added to Windows RT with the Windows 8.1 update.

Office Mobile for iPhone Review

We've been discussing Office on iOS rumors for so long that we somehow forgot to step back and think about what such a product offering could be. But with today's release of Office Mobile for iPhone, we know. This isn't a full-featured Office suite for portable devices, its Office Mobile, ported directly from Windows Phone to iPhone (and iPod touch).

Microsoft Previews Real-Time Co-authoring in Office Web Apps

This week, Microsoft offered a preview of the coming real-time co-authoring feature for its Office Web Apps, which will further extend the web-based productivity suite's functional lead over competition like Google Docs. This new feature will let co-authors see each other's changes immediately, as they occur.

SkyDrive Pro Mobile Apps for Windows 8, iOS

Microsoft on Friday delivered the first versions of its promised SkyDrive Pro mobile apps for Windows 8/RT and iOS (iPhone, iPad and iPod touch). The app, which looks and works almost exactly like the SkyDrive mobile app, provides a handy way to access your SkyDrive Pro-based files in Office 365, SharePoint Online, or SharePoint 2013.

Microsoft Updates OneNote Mobile App for iPhone, iPad and Android

Microsoft this week launched major updates to its OneNote mobile apps for iPhone, iPad and Android. The new app versions improve back-end notes syncing while bringing their respective UIs up to date with the more modern Windows versions of the apps. Best of all, it now works with SkyDrive Pro in SharePoint, SharePoint Online and the business versions of Office 365.

New Mobile Apps for Office 365: OWA for iPhone and iPad

Well, this is a surprise. Microsoft today released native Outlook clients for iPhone and iPad, providing users of those mobile devices with native apps for Office 365-based email, contacts and calendars. Called OWA (which actually stands for Outlook Web App), the new apps require an Office 365 business subscription.

Office Mobile for Android Phones Preview

Following in the footsteps of the recently released Office Mobile for iPhone, Microsoft this week released a new version of Office Mobile for Android handsets. Like its predecessor, it appears to be based on the Office Mobile feature set from Windows Phone, and is a free perk for Office 365 home and business subscribers.

Microsoft Updates SkyDrive Pro with 25 GB of Storage, Better Sharing, and More

Microsoft today announced a major update to the SkyDrive Pro service that ships as part of the business versions of Office 365: Users will each get a lot more storage, the ability to buy more storage, and other changes, like improved sharing functionality.

OneNote Mobile for iPhone, iPad is Untethered from the PC

A new version of OneNote Mobile for the iPhone and iPad that adds the ability to create new notebooks from those devices is not the subtle update it appears to be. Instead, with this seemingly small change, this app is now finally untethered from the web or PC, and can be used fully in standalone mode.

Office Store Expands

Microsoft announced some changes coming soon to the Office Store, including support for new languages and subscription pricing for apps. The announcement was timed to coincide with IT/Dev Connections, our industry conference currently underway in Las Vegas.

Microsoft Makes Office 365 Free for Many Students

Microsoft on Tuesday announced a new offer called Student Advantage that allows educational institutions that pay for Office 365 for staff and faculty to provide those services to students at no cost. This includes Office 365 Education as well as Office 365 ProPlus, which is essentially a subscription-based version of the Office 2013 Professional Plus software suite.

SkyDrive Pro 1.1 for iOS

Microsoft this week bumped its SkyDrive Pro mobile app for iOS (iPad, iPhone, iPod touch) to version 1.1, adding better integration between the app and other Office solutions on iOS, including Office Mobile for iPhone (and iPod touch), Office Web Apps, and OneNote for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

Office Web Apps Gets Real-Time Co-Authoring, Other Updates

In keeping with its pledge to continually update its core products, Microsoft this morning unveiled a major update to its free Office Web Apps, which provide surprisingly functional versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote on the web. With this new update, Office Web Apps now offers real-time coauthoring functionality across the apps.

Office 365 Home Premium Updated with New Office Web Apps, Subscription Sharing

Since the release of Office 365 Home Premium earlier this year, I've touted this solution as an ideal and affordable way for families to stay up to date with the latest in Office technologies. This week, however, Microsoft elevated Office 365 Home Premium even further into "no brainer" territory with some useful changes that make this an even better value.

Office Remote Preview

Microsoft this week will ship a preview version of an interesting new solution called Office Remote that lets you tie your Windows Phone handset to a Bluetooth-powered PC and interact with Office documents in new ways. You might consider Office Remote as a productivity-focused take on Xbox SmartGlass, and Microsoft is interested to see how users would like it to evolve going forward.

Microsoft Issues Major Update to OneNote App for Windows

Microsoft today is issuing a major update to its OneNote app for Windows that is aimed at Windows 8.1 capabilities and the new generation of pen-enabled Windows mini-tablets.

Microsoft Lync App Updated for Windows 8.1

Microsoft today unveiled a new version of its Lync app, which takes advantage of unique new Windows 8.1 features, including the improved Snap view, detailed notifications, app-specific volume and more. Here's what's new.

OneNote for Android Updated

Microsoft issued an update for its Android version of OneNote this week, adding several new features aimed at making it easier for users to capture and access their notes on the go. But the notable bit, perhaps, is that each of the new features integrates with a recent Android platform update.

Microsoft Partners with GoDaddy to Make Office 365 Better for Small Businesses

I was curious to see how Microsoft would improve Office 365 this year, and just days into 2014, we see our first hint: Microsoft is now partnering with GoDaddy to offer a wider range of Office 365 options for small businesses, some of which are less expensive than Microsoft's stock Office 365 subscriptions.

Microsoft Improves Office Web Apps UI, Adds New Features

Microsoft this week announced some nice new additions to its free, web-based Office Web Apps, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote Web App. They've been updated visually, and with new navigation, and Word Web App received a few nice new functional updates too.

Get the idea?

Good. So here's the kicker: That's not everything. As it turns out, I'm not perfect, and there were some other Office 365-related changes I actually missed over the past year. In the interest brevity (ahem), here's a selection of the Office 365 changes I missed from just the second half of 2013, courtesy of Microsoft.

Make Yammer your default social network in Office 365

Starting today, you can make Yammer the primary enterprise social experience in Office 365 for everyone in your organization. This is part of the Yammer and SharePoint roadmap that we shared with you in March, and it's a first step in integrating our services.

SharePoint Newsfeed app now available in the Windows Store

We are pleased to announce that the SharePoint Newsfeed for the Windows Store is now available for SharePoint 2013 users and for SharePoint Online users in Office 365.

Office 365 customers can more easily switch plans

We've been listening to your feedback and today we are announcing the ability for customers to more easily switch between Office 365 business plans.  We know that as your business grows and your business needs change, you need the flexibility to change your Office 365 subscription.

Stay informed with the new Message Center

Today we are adding Message Center, a new admin feature for communications.  Message Center will help inform Office 365 admins about new features and actions they need to take to keep their Office 365 service running smoothly.

Remote PowerShell for Lync Online

Today, the Lync Online team is releasing remote PowerShell capabilities to all commercial Office 365 customers. 

Exchange Online mailbox sizes are doubling

The size of user mailboxes in all Exchange Online and Office 365 service plans is doubling. Beginning today, the current 25 GB of mailbox storage is increasing to 50 GB. With this increase even the most active email users don't have to worry about mailbox size limitations-we've got you covered! There's no price increase associated with this change. Our doubling of your mailbox storage is simply part of our promise to continuously deliver value to our Office 365 customers. 

SharePoint Online improves limits and makes it easier to restore documents

Based on feedback and reports on how customers use the service, we've made the following improvements to SharePoint Online: We've increased file upload limit from 250MB to 2 GB and expanded support for a broader range of file types, have increased Site collection limits (from 3,000 to 10,000) and list lookup limits to 12, and have increased recycle bin retention duration and turned on versioning by default for new SkyDrive Pro libraries.

Visualize Lync usage for your business with new reports

This week, the Lync Online team released three additional usage reports to the integrated Office 365 admin center. The usage metrics were previously available only through Windows PowerShell and the REST reporting web service.

Search innovations for site and portal design in SharePoint Online

In February 2013, SharePoint Online in Office 365 introduced full enterprise search technology. Today we're announcing the latest search-based innovation rolling out to SharePoint Online over the next few days.

SharePoint Online introduces the Touch Design mobile experience

The new Touch Design mobile pages enhance the touch experience of two core SharePoint components, SkyDrive Pro and Sites. Now, when you access SharePoint Online from smaller devices-from 11-inch screens down to 4-inch-you have a new app-like experience that enables you to work your best with your documents and team sites.

SharePoint Online improves external sharing

We've been hard at work to enhance the external sharing user experience so that sharing is more and more friction free, for both users and admins.

Office 365 Admin app is now on Android and iOS

As of today, the Office 365 Admin app is now available for Android and iOS 7, enabling administrators to view the service health of their Office 365 environment on-the-go.


Quite a list. And again, an incomplete list.

Looking back on my original review of Office 365 Home Premium and my comparison of Office 365 Small Business and Office 365 Small Business Premium, I see that the basics today are all the same, but that in the ensuing year both services—and the other business versions—have all improved dramatically. Microsoft says that more is coming in 2014, of course, but get this: It also intends to step it up, and release even more updates in improvements in year two.


From a momentum perspective, nothing can touch Office in general or Office 365 specifically. As noted, Office is one of the most popular software products ever released with over 1 billion active users, good for 1 in 7 people on the planet.

Consumers? The company recently revealed that Office 365 Home Premium now has over 3.5 million subscribers.

Businesses? The business versions of the product are Microsoft's fastest growing commercial product ever. The Office 365 business is now on a $1.5 billion annual revenue run rate. One in four of Microsoft's business customers now has Office 365, and 60 percent of the Fortune 500 purchased Office 365 in the last 12 months alone. The business versions of Office grew 11 in Q2 2013, with SharePoint, Exchange and Lync collectively growing double-digits, with Lync nearly hitting 3x. Office 365 seats and Azure customers both growing triple-digits in the same quarter.

Yeah, it was a great year. For Microsoft and for its customers. Win-win.

So happy birthday, Office 365. Here's to the next year.

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