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.

Office Web applications

One of Microsoft's selling claims for Office 365 is the availability of Office Web applications, similar to the suite of Web apps that Google offers.

Of the Office Web applications, the only one I have used is OWA (Outlook Web Application). Web implementation of Outlook is terrible. First, for some reason, its interface is entirely different (and less usable) than the interface for, and you can't use with Office 365. Go figure.

Second, as I said, the interface is terrible. You can't even specify the columns you want to see, so the bulk of the screen is filled with a subject line sitting on top of the sender name. No other particularly useful message information is provided without opening the message, and the application wastes tons of screen real estate.

There are arrow icons in messages, but they're for forwarding or replying, not for moving back and forth between messages. It is painful to use.

As for the other Office Web applications, the simple fact is I have yet to even launch them. You can't just login to your Office 365 account and launch an app. You have to go into OneDrive or SharePoint and then create a new application file. Too much work, especially since the Web variants are reportedly much weaker variants than the desktop editions.

After a year: I've been able to derive no value from these at all.

I judge the Office Web applications as a major disappointment. In particular, (which is a completely different app than OWA) showcases just how bad Outlook Web Application is. It's also disappointing that you can't use with Office 365.

Contacts and calendar

I'll be talking more about contacts in a future article. As it turns out, contacts in Office 365 sync nicely with the iPhone, but poorly (they lose categories) with Android devices. Disappointingly, given that Microsoft owns Skype, Skype contacts live in their own silo, and don't sync with Outlook contacts.

The Office calendar has improved over the years, but I use Google Calendar and completely ignore the Outlook calendar. When I made the decision to use the Google Calendar, there were some valuable features (emailed reminders) that didn't exist in Outlook's calendar. Some of those features have since been added.

Even so, my Google Calendar is so solid and useful that I haven't tried to fight to get the Outlook version up and running.

After a year: A solid and reliable Google Calendar has given me no reason to consider switching to Outlook, combined with Outlook's inability to share contacts with Skype.

I judge contacts and calendar as adequate, but not compelling.

OneDrive for Business

In typical Microsoft fashion, the company has OneDrive and OneDrive for Business -- and they're completely different beasts. When I first got my Office 365 account, OneDrive was called SkyDrive and OneDrive for Business was called SkyDrive Pro. Apparently, Microsoft had landed on someone else's trademark and had to change the name.

I don't use either service. I'll tell you why. When I first got Office 2013 with my Office 365 account, I tried to save my files to OneDrive (what was then called SkyDrive). The desktop applications wouldn't let me. That's because the OneDrive it wanted to save to was a consumer version of the service, so even though I had bought the business version of the service, the applications that came with the business version of the service couldn't save to that version of the service.

Still with me?

Microsoft has just announced that it's increasing the allocation of OneDrive for Business to 1TB, which is pretty impressive. Sadly, because OneDrive for Business is based on SharePoint, files uploaded to the service are slightly modified .

As a result, while I'd like to just dump my entire documents folder into a shared OneDrive for Business, I don't dare. I don't want all my carefully crafted code and files to be mucked with just because I might want to store it in Microsoft's cloud.

After a year: Microsoft's cloud offerings are still baffling and annoying. While the 1TB offering is generous indeed, its value is substantially diminished by the problematic rewriting of content stored using the service.

I judge OneDrive for Business a service Microsoft didn't have to screw up. If they just made it basically a Dropbox clone, it would be invaluable. Instead, there are two different versions, with logins that are incompatible, and you can't even save your Office 365 files to the OneDrive for Business you get with Office 365. Short answer: WTF?

Also, while we're on the subject of authentication, if you have an Office 365 account, you can't use that account to sign into Windows 8. Windows 8 requires your Microsoft account, which maps to OneDrive, not OneDrive for Business. It's as if Windows, the Office desktop apps, and OneDrive come from one company and the Office 365 service and One Drive for Business comes from another.

Next: Mobile versions of Office, SharePoint, and overall dollar value...

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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