Office 365 after a year: Worth it or not?

Summary:ZDNet's David Gewirtz explores the offerings provided by Office 365 and shares with you, after a year of use, what aspects of the service proved to be valuable and what aspects proved to be either annoying or baffling.

I've been relying on the Office 365 Midsize Business subscription for just over a year now. After a baker's dozen of months, I thought it would be a good time to review the good and bad of this service, especially for those of you considering jumping into the Office 365 ecosystem.

Before I get started, let's set the stage. First, and most important, you should know I pay for my own subscription. I didn't get any "press favors" with this thing. I signed up like a regular business customer and pay for it like a regular business customer. With subscriptions for me and my wife, that comes to $30 a month.

I bought the Office 365 Midsize Business plan, not so much because my professional service firm is a midsize business as because I use computing resources like a midsize business. I've got well over 100TB under one roof, somewhere around fifty devices on our network, and GigE into every wall of the house. So I bought the larger plan because we have a lot of data to store, mostly email going way back to before the turn of the century.

For those of you curious why I chose Office 365 over Google, go ahead and read My big email switch: Why I picked Office 365 over Google Apps . It tells the full story.

For the rest of this article, I'm going to go down the various features and elements of my Office 365 subscription and detail to you my impressions after a year. What I'll measure against is whether or not the $360 we spent for the year was worth it or not.

Finally, let me note that everyone's usage pattern is going to be different. What I value or need may be different from what you value or need. In any case, this is my experience.

Email Exchange service

I've been using hosted Exchange services for well over a decade. Prior to moving to Office 365, I was using a private provider and paid $20/month for two Exchange email boxes.

I made the transition to Office 365 because the small hosting provider was starting to evidence reliability problems and I rely on email for just about everything I do.

After a year: Reliability problems have all but gone away. I have had no performance or functionality problems with the basic service of getting and sending email. Spam management is mediocre (I still get messages using foreign character sets), but the amount of junk I get is moderately manageable with rare false positives.

I judge Office 365's basic Exchange hosting services as a win.

Support quality

When I first tried setting up my accounts with Office 365, I ran into some snags and had pretty high quality support from the Office 365 support team . Since then, service quality has diminished. I dread using Microsoft's support services. It's a painful and often frustrating exercise.

After a year: Support is barely adequate. It's a complete gamble whether I'll get excellent support or terrible support.

I sent in an email request for support on May 6. In response, I got a form letter that indicated the support rep hadn't bothered to read my request. After sending back a scolding response, I finally got a useful answer today -- a full seven days after my request was initiated.

I judge Office 365's support services to be barely tolerable. It's there, but it's not good.

Microsoft desktop applications

One of the benefits of the plan I have is that each user can install up to five copies of the Office desktop applications. Both my wife and I move between three main machines, so we'd wind up needing six licenses to office. In addition, I also use Office on my Mac, which would be a seventh license.

Since we pay $10/month more for Office 365 than we did just for Exchange hosting, our cost for what is effectively seven Office desktop licenses is $120/year, which is a pretty fair deal.

After a year: Microsoft promises free upgrades to new Office versions, but there have been no new Office versions. The PC version is not bad, but could use some improvement. The Mac version of Office feels like a bad piece of shareware. It's painful to use, and hasn't been updated for something like four years.

I judge Office 365 desktop applications to be a reasonable deal, but the lack of upgrades and new features is disappointing. The shareware-quality Office for Macintosh is just plain inexcusable.

Next: Office Web applications and OneDrive...

By the way, I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at

Topics: Microsoft, Cloud


In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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