What is Microsoft 365? Microsoft's most important subscription bundle, explained

Microsoft 365 is becoming a centerpiece of Redmond's cloud strategy. Here's everything you need to know about what it is and how it's evolving.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

What is Microsoft 365, in a nutshell?

Microsoft 365 is an integrated bundle of Windows 10, Office 365 and Enterprise Mobility + Security (aka EMS, which includes Intune device management, analytics and some Azure Active Directory capabilities), sold on a subscription basis. Microsoft 365 is the evolution of the bundles formerly known as "Secure Productive Enterprise E3 and E5."

Credit: Microsoft

How long has Microsoft 365 been around?

Microsoft introduced the Microsoft 365 concept at its partner conference in July 2017. The first two editions (Business and Enterprise) became available for purchase in early August 2017.

As part of its recent company-wide reorg, Microsoft made a subset of the Windows 10 team part of the Microsoft 365 organization. Corporate Vice President Brad Anderson now has overall responsibility for Microsoft 365, all-up.

What are the different Microsoft 365 variants or editions?

Microsoft currently offers a handful of targeted Microsoft 365 bundles. These are:

  • Microsoft 365 Enterprise: For companies with more than 300 users. It's available in two options -- with Windows 10 Enterprise (E3 or E5), plus Office 365 and EMS.
  • Microsoft 365 Business: For small-to-mid-sized businesses (SMBs) with up to 300 users. It includes Windows 10 Pro, Office 365 and EMS.
  • Microsoft 365 F1: For "firstline"/customer service and support workers. This plan includes Windows 10 Enterprise, Office 365 F1 (formally Office 365 Enterprise K1) and EMS.
  • Microsoft 365 Education: For educational institutions, schools and classrooms. It comes in three options: A1, AE and A5.
  • Microsoft 365 Nonprofit: For not-for-profit organizations. This seems to be Microsoft 365 Business available at a reduced rate (best I can tell).
  • Microsoft 365 Government: For U.S. government agencies and controactors holding controlled but unclassified information.

(Don't let the alphabet soup of acronyms here intimidate you. E3, E5, A1, K1, etc. are all plan designations carried over primarily from Office 365.)

Some Microsoft watchers have wondered whether Microsoft may be planning to introduce a Microsoft 365 for consumer/home users. So far, no such offering has been announced or leaked, however.

Can customers still buy the piece-parts of Microsoft 365 as standalone products? And for how long?

Microsoft is continuing to sell Windows 10 E3/E5, Windows 10 Pro, Office 365 and EMS separately and has not said it has plans to only offer these components as part of a bundle.

What is "Windows 10 Business"?

Windows 10 Business is a custom variant of Windows 10 that is only available as part of the Microsoft 365 Business plan. It includes everything in Win 10 Pro plus Windows Defender Security Controls, Windows AutoPilot, as well as hooks for Automatic Office apps deployment,

What is a "Microsoft 365-powered device"?

Shortly after announcing Microsoft 365, Microsoft officials began talking about Microsoft 365-powered devices. This was a new marketing term, and not actually a way that customers or organizations could buy or license a piece of hardware. It was simply meant to encourage customers to run one of the Microsoft 365 bundles on a Windows 10 machine.

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Some Microsoft execs began describing Surface devices as Microsoft 365-powered. HP execs also have talked about the HP EliteBook x360 and HP Elite x2 under the Microsoft 365-powered banner.

The PCs that Microsoft partners introduced a year ago as being optimized for Windows 10 S also can be seen as good candidates for those running Microsoft 365 F1, as many companies would potentially be introduced in having their front-line workers run streamlined/locked-down devices. (Devices running Windows 10 S that subscribe to Microsoft 365 F1 will upgrade to Windows 10 Enterprise in S mode.)

Microsoft has been phasing out quietly the Microsoft 365-powered nomenclature and replacing it with "modern desktop experience powered by Microsoft 365." There are still some references on Microsoft web sites and documentation to "Microsoft 365-powered," but not many.

Will Microsoft begin reporting Microsoft 365 as part of its "commercial cloud" revenues in its financials?

Microsoft officials have not said they plan to start including Microsoft 365 as a component of its commercial cloud bucket, but I wouldn't be surprised to see this happen in the not-to-distant future, since Office 365 and Intune are already part of the commercial cloud figures Microsoft reports.

What constitutes the "Microsoft 365 development platform"?

At its Build 2018 developer conference this year, Microsoft dedicated an entire keynote to the concept of building on top of the Microsoft 365 platform.

Microsoft now has four major development platforms: Azure, Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365 and gaming. The Microsoft 365 piece takes the current Windows developer model and expands it with the Microsoft Graph, which is Microsoft's centralized API for connecting applications and services across devices, applications and services. The Graph is what is enabling a number of the cross-platform features, like Timeline and Sets, in Windows 10.

Why is Microsoft pushing Microsoft 365 so hard?

Microsoft is hoping lightning can strike twice when it comes to bundles. Office, a bundle of the company's productivity apps, became a huge business for Microsoft over the years. Since then, the company has been testing and fielding a variety of product bundles with the goal of selling more software and services via subscription, which gives Microsoft a dependable stream of recurring revenue.

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