Why Office 365 is a better Office

Microsoft's flexible approach to Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, and Office means each business can get the right mix of cloud and local for its needs

This week is an exciting one for me: It's time for the MVP Summit, an event that draws fellow Microsoft MVPs ("most valued professionals") from all around the world to Microsoft's HQ in Redmond, Wash. Most of the information is covered by a nondisclosure agreement, so there isn't much I can share just yet. But one session I attended truly changed my understanding of Office 365.

Ask people what Office 365 is and you'll get various (and most likely incorrect) responses. One of the reasons for the confusion is that Office 365 today is not what it was at release. Office 365 has multiple sides to it, and "your" Office 365 depends on your needs and the plan you choose. Knowing your options is essential to make wise choices for your environment.

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One notable aspect of Office 365 is the provision of hosted Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync. That hosting can save you on infrastructure and administration, but it has another advantage: You no longer need to worry about version migrations -- Microsoft handles that behind the scenes. Likewise, Office 365 is a way to provide the Office suite to users, again automatically using the most current version for whatever platform they are running.

Plus, when it comes to Exchange and other server services, Office 365 can be more capable than even the latest on-premises version. Case in point is Exchange 2013. I work with Exchange 2013 daily, and I can name several features I'd like to see enhanced, such as the antimalware options and the Exchange Admin Center's interface. But my Office 365 portal's antimalware tools are more capable and easier to manage than those in my on-premises Exchange, even with the latest updates applied. Another example is Microsoft's recent enhancement to mobile access to SharePoint for users with a business Office 365 subscription.

Similarly, the Office 365 productivity applications aren't simply about leasing versus buying a license. The Office 365 versions can have capabilties not in the off-the-shelf licensed version, even one with the most recent updates applied. Again, Office 365 is the platform that gets the enhancements first -- and may be the only platform that gets any at all.

Of course, if you value stability more than currency, you can get that by using the traditional licensing for Office, Exchange, SharePoint, and so on. Recently the Microsoft Exchange team confirmed there will continue to be on-premises versions of the server software, and the same appears to be true for Office.

And it's not a binary decision. You can mix traditional on-premises deployments with cloud deployments. For example, you can go with hosted Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync while continuing to license Office the traditional way. Or you can lease Office via Office 365 while deploying Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync on-premises with a traditional license.

Some people may suggest that all businesses simply go all-in with Office 365, but that's not how enterprises work. Every environment is a bit different. There are concerns (both warranted and unwarranted) that drive deployment decisions, particularly around the implications of software that can change at any time and the reliability of the cloud. Flexibility is critical in that reality.

I'm thrilled to see so much flexibility in Office 365.

This story, "Why Office 365 is a better Office," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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