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 for iPad, iPhone, and Android

My ZDNet colleague James Kendrick calls Office for iPad one of Microsoft's finest moments

I use the built-in email application on my Android and iOS devices to access my Office 365 email. Microsoft's OWA app is terrible by comparison, with big rows and minimal useful information inside the glossy interface.

I don't have much use for Office for iPad (even though I can download it for free) because I don't have a good way to link OneDrive or OneDrive for Business into my daily workflow. See my discussion about OneDrive on the previous page.

Finally, my Chromebook beats the pants off of my iPad as a go-out-and-about device. It's both less expensive and runs full Chrome, along with my extensions. I need Chrome far more than I need Office on the iPad.

I'm a very active PowerPoint user, but I don't work on PowerPoint presentations when I'm out because I have a very large media asset library that lives on my LAN and create very big PowerPoint files. So even a moderately good PowerPoint on the iPad doesn't provide me with much value.

After a year: Microsoft has clearly improved its mobile offerings. I just can't find myself caring.

I'll let James Kendrick judge Office for iPad, and he's very happy with it. I still think Office for iPad is crippled -- like the rest of Office -- with the inconsistent account and identity management foisted on users by OneDrive and OneDrive for Business, Microsoft accounts, and Office 365 accounts.

SharePoint and OneNote

I can't tell you how excited I was when I got Office 365 and, by virtue of my subscription, now had a full SharePoint installation.

I don't use it. At all. I haven't been able to convince my colleagues to use it with me.

I also don't use OneNote, even though it's substantially improved over the year. Instead, I use Evernote. Had OneNote been as good as it has gotten before I dumped all my stuff in Evernote, I might have used it. But now that I'm invested in Evernote, it's just too much work to move things to OneNote.

After a year: I haven't been able to convince a single collaborator to use SharePoint. Everyone is fully comfortable with Google Drive, and just about everyone I work with shares documents via Google.

I judge SharePoint disappointing. You need other people to be able to use this product and SharePoint is being left in the dust by other collaboration tools, at least among the people I work with.


Lync is Google Hangouts and Skype... on steroids. Unfortunately, it has a terrible client for Mac use, and I do all my video conferencing on the Mac.

Update: This critique has been corrected based on feedback from Microsoft. When I originally started using Office 365, Lync and Skype couldn't talk. Since then, that has changed. See my notes below.

Once again, contacts become an issue, because Skype doesn't share contacts with Lync, and you can't use Lync to talk to Skype users. As a result, if you're going to do a Lync conference, everyone has to have Lync, and except for a few Microsoft employees I know, very few people ever use the product.

After a year: Lync's integration hasn't improved.   I was just informed by Microsoft that, "Lync and Skype are currently federated for IM, presence and voice calls and have been since May 2013 (this link provides full description). Lync users add Skype contacts by typing their Skype users’ Microsoft account names into the Add Skype Contact window in Lync."

I judge this to be another missed opportunity good progress, but it's interesting that as an Office 365 user and a Skype Premium customer, I never got any "in my mailbox" notification of this change. Apparently, it was posted on a blog entry, but outreach to at least this customer didn't make it.

Overall dollar value

After a year, has Office 365 been worth it? Given the fact that I use roughly a third of what my subscription offers, I still consider it worth the money.

Google Apps doesn't offer the depth of Microsoft's desktop applications and given that I'm a very heavy PowerPoint user, I'd still need to buy Office. Also, even though none of the desktop applications have seen an upgrade in far too long, the desktop Outlook experience is still far more convenient for me than Gmail.

So, without a doubt, Office 365 is worth the price. The big disappointment is that it could be so much better... if only it didn't suffer from Microsoft's usual baffling product management decision making.

Now that OneDrive for Business offers a terabyte of storage, I will do a test install of OneDrive for Business and run some tests to see if it damages any of my important files. If the service doesn't completely suck, it's just too good a deal to dismiss without at least some investigation.

Would I advise you to invest in Office 365? Well, that depends on which ecosystem you rely on. If you've got a long history of relying on Microsoft, then Office 365 is a good deal, if a bit frustrating. But then, if you've got a long history of relying on Microsoft, you're used to getting reasonably good software served with the occasional heaping helping of annoyance.

Bottom line, though, if you add up the suite of desktop apps, the Exchange and SharePoint services (whether used or not), the 1TB of online storage, and all the fixin's, Microsoft is certainly providing value. I'll keep using the service for another year.

What about you? Have you been using Office 365? Has it proven to be valuable to you?

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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