Is the Office 365 suite the right choice for you?
For three decades, Microsoft Office has been the de facto standard in business productivity. During most of that time, however, Microsoft’s pricing system heavily favored enterprise clients over SMBs and private users. Recognizing that it was at least potentially in danger of losing that market to other options, Microsoft brought out Office 365. This is based in the cloud and uses a subscription-based pricing model. Here’s what you need to know to decide if Office 365 suite is the right choice for you.
Office 365 suite versus regular Microsoft Office
Office 365 suite offers the same level of functionality as regular Microsoft Office, the big difference is that it is based in the cloud rather than installed on a user’s computer. This clearly brings many benefits in terms of flexibility, both in use and in pricing, but can raise concerns about security.
The basics Office 365 suite and security
On a grand scale, Office 365 and security is a long and complex topic. At a more basic level, however, it’s actually fairly simple. Office 365 suite is a service based in the public cloud, which essentially means that the cloud servers are shared by different people. For some companies, especially those in regulated industries, this will mean that Office 365 suite will be a non-starter for compliance reasons.
For most companies, however, the level of security offered by Office 365 suite will not only be more than adequate, it will be more than they could have managed by themselves. In fact, potentially, it will be a lot more. Not to put too fine a point on the matter, Microsoft has far more knowledge and resources than the average SMB. Additionally, it has oversight of multiple users, so it is well-placed to detect not just any problems with its service, but any external cyberattacks.
The issue of data in Office 365 suite
This is actually very simple, which makes it surprising that it is so often misunderstood. You own your own data. That’s all there is to it. Microsoft does not have the right to access it and it uses strict internal controls to ensure that its employees do not access a customer’s data inappropriately. No, it can’t guarantee that it’s system is 100% secure, but then neither can any other company. If you ever decide to stop using the Office 365 suite then you are perfectly free to do so, taking your data with you and Microsoft will then delete its traces.
In short, Microsoft will only access your data and/or hand it over to a third party if they are legally obliged to do so and in that situation any other company would have to comply with the order as would you if you hosted your data yourself.
What Microsoft does do, which may be where the confusion arises, is collect aggregate data about service usage and user behavior. It then uses this data to improve its service, either by developing the functionality of the Office 365 suite or by improving its security.
Office 365 suite versus free productivity software
There are two good reasons for choosing Office 365 suite over free productivity software. The first is functionality. Quite simply, developing good programs takes time and effort (for which read money) so there’s a limit to how much vendors will provide for free. Realistically, the nearest “like-for-like free competitor” to Office 365 suite is Google’s G Suite and that is severely lacking in functionality compared to Office 365 suite. It may be a perfectly reasonable choice for personal use but not for business use.
For the sake of completeness, there are downloadable Office suites such as Apache OpenOffice, LibreOffice and NeoOffice and some of these offer much more functionality than G Suite, but they still don’t come close to either Office 365 Suite or regular Microsoft Office, plus you lose the flexibility of working in the cloud.
The second reason to avoid free options is that you have little to no comeback if anything goes wrong. If a vendor is actively negligent, then you may be able to get some form of compensation from them. For example, Yahoo! Is currently in the process of settling claims related to its lack of data security. Business, however, may face extra challenges here as free products and services often have terms and conditions which say that they are for personal use only. You will not, however, have any meaningful comeback if there is a disruption to the service for which you are not paying.
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