Five things you need to know about Office 365 for Education

With the upcoming launch of Office 365 for Education -- the cloud-based communications suite for colleges -- five things you should know.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

Office 365 may well be a game changer for cloud users of small to medium sized businesses.

But little has been said about its younger sister, still in college and ready to fight out to the masses -- Office 365 for Education, the successor to the current Live@edu system.

So what is next for the service, which provides email and communications to tens of millions of students worldwide?


1. Live@edu users will not be automatically upgraded to Office 365 for Education.

First things first, according to one of many spokespeople in this post, existing Live@edu users will not be automatically upgraded to the new Office 365 platform. So, for many it will remain free -- we hope.

Nevertheless, there are both advantages and disadvantages in features and in pricing. For both, read on.

2. Very little will change for you if you are upgraded to Office 365.

You may have noticed a few months ago, the Outlook interface you are used to using as part of your email adventures, changed out of the blue.

It turns out students were just the beta testers for the wider community, according to a Microsoft spokesperson at the Office 365 launch in London. But don't feel used. It's not the first time Microsoft has done it and probably will not be the last.

3. Just because Office 365 offers SharePoint and Lync does not mean you will get it.

The problem here is that Microsoft reeled in schools, colleges and universities with the prospect of freebies during the global financial crisis, hooked in institutions with free outsourced communications -- and then started to charge for academic staff.

Pricing is still not entirely clear. For students, it will be free. For staff and academics, Microsoft is charging for the privilege of using their services -- which, when put like that, seems at least somewhat fair, but not based on false premise.

"Live@edu will always be free", (another) Microsoft spokesperson told me last year. That is, when it isn't Live@edu after all, and you upgrade to Office 365 for Education.

4. BlackBerry users may finally get an Exchange reprieve.

Good news! (There had to be some). To take full advantage of Office 365's email, calendar and contact service, one needs to be running an Exchange-compatible phone. The vastly polarised students we have today are tied between iPhones which have this support, and BlackBerrys which do not.

But fear not. BlackBerry student users will be given a reprieve when Exchange support comes to the Office 365 system.

It's not entirely clear in what form this will take. But with Microsoft's recent dealings with BlackBerry manufacturer Research in Motion, it could be that behind-the-scenes tinkering could allow enterprise-grade security and push email to be brought to BlackBerrys at long last; imitating the relationship between iPhones and Exchange.

5. Get used to it. You'll likely be using it in industry.

Whether you like it or not, Office 365 is a good deal for many. It's incredibly cheap, highly scalable and provides far better uptime than your own in-house solution ever could.

But Google Apps looks like it was designed by kids. It has little in terms of value for professionals who use the cloud-based document editing suite, which has serious compatibility consistencies compared to Microsoft's Office Web Apps.

Of course, when it comes down to data privacy and protection, one must sound that old chestnut again and mention the dreaded Patriot Act, in all of its star spangled glory.

But remember that Office 365 is more than 'just email'. It isn't "Office in the cloud" as many have suggested. It is, however, a hybrid of desktop Office software merging with online, cloud based services which are available anywhere and everywhere. Except, maybe Death Valley or the Bonneville Flats.

With Lync Online, this allows you and your college contacts to video and voice call each other for collaboration means.

Then again, your social infrastructure remains within Facebook. With the recent video calling announcement, why go elsewhere?

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