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Questions & Answers: Microsoft Office 365

What is Office 365

No matter who I ask about it - I get different and contradicting answers. What is Office 365 now? A new version of Office? Word and Excel in the browser? A cloud offer?

Office 365 is not an independent software, nor is it the name of the browser versions of Word & Co. Rather, it is the sales name for a whole bundle of subscription models that Microsoft offers both business customers and private users and their scope and Content has changed again and again over the past few years.

As part of such a subscription, you can also get the right to use certain programs, including Word, PowerPoint, Excel or Outlook in the versions that can be conventionally installed on your own computer. In addition, there are - depending on the subscription model - a whole range of additional services such as storage space with Microsoft's cloud storage service OneDrive, additional apps and some extra functions in Word & Co. that are withheld from non-subscribers.

Office 365 vs. Office in the browser

Are not the web versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint behind Office 365 that I can run directly in the browser?

No, that is a common misconception. The browser versions of Word & Co., which are functionally slimmed down compared to the desktop versions, are referred to by Microsoft as Office Online. They do not require an Office 365 subscription, but can also be used with a free Microsoft account - very similar to Google Docs / Google Drive.

Office 365 vs. Office 2019

I installed the latest Office with all the modules included as part of a 365 subscription. Do I use Office 2019 now? I can't find any reference to it in the program.

Microsoft has caused a lot of confusion on this topic in the past. So far it has been like this: Anyone who had an Office 365 subscription that also contained licenses for the locally installable Office programs got a regular Office 2016 on their computer, which was also presented with this name. In the course of time, this received not only the usual security patches and bug fixes, but also functional extensions. The latter were withheld from Office 2016 purchased as a single package or as part of a multiple license. After a while, there was virtually an “Office 2016 old” (one-time purchase, only security patches, never added new functions) and a “Office 2016 new” (as part of a subscription, always up-to-date).

Microsoft changed that a bit with the appearance of Office 2019 in autumn last year: Only the one-time purchase single license is called Office 2019 and is also reflected in the start logo. The modules installed as part of an Office 356 subscription, on the other hand, simply report with “Word” or “Excel” and the addition “Office 365”, without any year. Technically, they still contain a Word 2019 or Excel 2019, which, however, moves further and further away from the original Office 2019 over time due to function updates. As before with Office 2016, the single purchase version remains functionally the same as it was when it was first published in autumn 2018, whereas the programs receive constant function updates as part of a subscription.

Online constraint

Do users of Office 365 need to keep their computers online at all times?

Yes and no. The installation of the Office package from Excel, Word, Powerpoint & Co. only works by downloading it from a Microsoft website. One-time activation and linking to your Microsoft account also require an Internet connection.

Afterwards, all programs can be used offline without restriction, as in the previous Office versions - at least if you do not want to save your data directly on OneDrive, but on your own hard drive or in the local network.

However, Office 365 requires an Internet connection at least once every 31 days to check the validity of the license. If this check fails, the included Office programs are deactivated. When that happens, documents can still be read and printed, but not edited or saved.

In addition, some of the newer functions run on Microsoft servers and are not available offline. This applies to the translation and research functions, for example. If you start such a function offline, a corresponding message appears.

Save locally

And what about the cloud constraint? I don't want to save my files in a cloud.

Office 365 gives many users the impression that they have to store their Word documents or PowerPoint presentations on OneDrive or OneDrive for Business. This is a mistake that stems from the fact that Microsoft is placing its cloud storage services in the foreground and also clearly highlighting them on the user interface of the Office programs. Microsoft has a great interest in users saving their data in the cloud, for example for training in-house AI services. But there is no compulsion.

Even if you use Word, Excel and Powerpoint as part of an Office subscription, you are free to save your data exclusively on the local disk of your device or in a LAN directory. To do this, simply select “This Computer” or “Search” in the Backstage area (“File” menu) to open a corresponding file selection dialog.

Office plans

I always read about "plans" on Microsoft's Office product pages. What is it and what is the difference between Home, Personal, Business and Enterprise plans?

Microsoft describes a plan as a specific subscription contract. Different plans offer different benefits and cost differently.

Office 365 Home and Personal are intended for private individuals. Personal is the cheapest subscription option. It costs just under 70 euros a year, but only contains a single Office license for installation on a PC or Mac. Office 365 Home for around 100 euros a year allows the installation of the Office programs for up to six users, each with their own Microsoft account, who in turn can each be logged in on up to five devices at the same time. This is mainly intended for families.

The different business variants are billed per user (currently from 4.20 to 10.50 euros per user). The cheapest (Business Essentials) does not have the locally installable Office programs. It offers OneDrive for Business (SharePoint Online) as cloud storage and an Exchange server hosted by Microsoft. The middle package (Office 365 Business, 8.80 euros per user) offers the Office programs, but neither Exchange Online nor Sharepoint. The most expensive, called Business Premium, offers both office packages and online services. Microsoft provides an overview of the prices and scope of services for Office 365 Home, Personal and Business on its website. There are also company plans (Enterprise, E1 to E3) and special subscriptions for educational and government institutions.

One license, several users

I have a subscription to Office 365 Home. That should give me 30 licenses for Word, Excel & Co. If my wife or children also want to install the Office programs on their computers, do I have to give them my account access data?

No, that would also be nonsensical. After all, they would then also have access to your emails, for example. It works differently: The home subscription includes up to 6 users who can install Office on any number of devices and log in to up to five of them at the same time - with their respective personal Microsoft accounts. As the owner of the subscription, you invite the respective family members to share it. To do this, visit Microsoft's Services and Subscriptions website and click “Share Now”. Then enter the (Microsoft) e-mail address of the relevant family member to send a message that also contains a link to download and install the Office suite.

Limitations without the cloud

Are there functional limitations or do I have other disadvantages if I don't save my files in the Microsoft cloud?

Only if you want to use certain newer Office functions that require the files to be saved on OneDrive. This includes, for example, the possibility of editing a document in parallel with several users or the new automatic storage (more on this in c't 9/2019: Automatic storage and backup functions in MS Office). The simple sharing of files for use on other computers or mobile devices is also no longer necessary. The conventional sharing methods via LAN or local network sharing, however, can still be used.

Offline installation file

I don't want to have to download the programs in Office 365 Home again for every computer and family account. Are there offline installation files that I can copy to a USB stick or burn to a DVD?

Is there. Microsoft just hid them a little. Visit www.office.com and sign in with the Microsoft account associated with your Office 365 subscription. Click on "Install Office" at the top right and then on the next page in the upper left area under "Install Office on all computers" again on "Install Office". In the following dialog box, do not click on "Install", but on "Additional options" in the top right corner. A dialog opens in which you can select the language and Office version. Simply activate the option "Download offline installer". The download of a 3.3 GB DVD image named "O365HomePremRetail.img" then starts. You can start this in Explorer, whereupon a virtual CD drive will be set up. You can save its contents to an external drive, a USB stick or burn it to a DVD. Of course, you can also start the setup of the 32- or 64-bit version of Office from the virtual drive.

Where's OneNote?

So far, the OneNote note program has also been part of the installation scope of Office 365. Why is it suddenly missing in Office 365 and 2019?

Microsoft has stopped development of the Windows desktop version of OneNote and has removed the program from the Office suite. It will be replaced by the much less functional “OneNote” universal Windows app, which is automatically installed with Windows 10 independently of Office. For owners of an Office 365 subscription, the app contains a few additional functions. Until further notice, Microsoft is offering the previous OneNote 2016 as a free single download (important: click on "Windows Desktop"!). It also works in parallel with or as an alternative to the app version. After the end of support for Office 2016 (without an extended support contract, this will be in October 2020), however, it will no longer be provided with security updates or bug fixes.

Microsoft's server locations

Where are the Microsoft servers with my data and what about the Office 365 Germany cloud?

Microsoft ensures that the data of all users who register from the European Union are also stored on an EU server, for example in Ireland. But that should only apply to the Office 365 business plans. Microsoft cannot omit the location of the data from subscribers to the Office 365 Home or Personal plans.

For a while there was the "Germany Cloud" offer for business customers. Anyone who had taken out a corresponding subscription could be sure that their data is on a Telekom Deutschland server. Microsoft itself had no access to the data; Telekom acted as trustee. Microsoft discontinued this service some time ago and has not accepted any new applications for it since then; Existing customers stay on the Telekom servers. The strict separation of the server from the global Microsoft network also ensured that some services only functioned to a limited extent or not at all; for example the OneNote webclipper, which requires access to a login server in the USA.

As a replacement, Microsoft has promised to start an alternative offer with self-operated servers in Germany in 2019; so far, however, nothing has been seen of it.

Windows vs. macOS

Are Office 365 for Windows and macOS completely identical?

Not quite. On the one hand, there are minor differences in the applications. For example, Word and Outlook do not offer exactly the same functionality on both platforms. In addition, Microsoft has to adhere to its conventions under macOS. Therefore, in Word & Co. on the Mac, for example, in addition to the typical Office toolbars (ribbons), there are also classic pull-down menus. On the other hand, the scope of the installation also differs. The Windows subscriptions contain the Access database; Microsoft Publisher is also in the home and personal versions of Office 365. Both programs are missing in Office 365 for macOS.

Microsoft reads with you

Can Microsoft read the contents of my documents and files on OneDrive or OneDrive for Business?

Yes, definitely. The data is encrypted in transit to and from the cloud servers. Microsoft also promises to encrypt all "dormant files" on the servers - but Microsoft owns the key. In various data protection declarations and FAQs on the Internet, Microsoft emphatically assures that customer data (including the files on OneDrive) is only accessed in a controlled and logged manner and only "when necessary". However, the company does not specify when this is the case. At the same time - nicely packaged - it can be read that customer data can and will be accessed to improve the user experience or personalize the services.

Microsoft is currently focusing heavily on developing server-side AI services such as text translation, OCR, and automatic image processing. To do this, Microsoft must at least automatically evaluate as much customer data as possible. This of course gives rise to concerns about data protection law against the use of Office 365, especially for companies and authorities, more precisely: the storage of documents in Microsoft's cloud services. The Hesse data protection officer recently found this and warned against the use of Microsoft's cloud services in educational institutions. Our sister magazine iX has examined which data is transferred during the installation and operation of Office 365. She too gives a clear warning. (swi)


This post comes from c't 17/2019