What is Office 365

At it’s simplest: Office 365 is Microsoft subscription service that enables you to buy it’s Microsoft Office productivity software on a month to month basis.

You can subscribe to two different stand-alone versions of Microsoft Office:

  • Office 365 Business
  • Office 365 Professional Plus

Apart from a significant price difference there are a number of other small differences between the two versions of desktop software. More here: What is the difference between Office 365 Business and Office 365 ProPlus?

On top of this are a number of back-end services that make the software more useful and usable and can be purchased bundled in with (or in addition to) the desktop software. The most important of these are:

  • Exchange Online: Essentially a replacement for your Exchange Server i.e. a way to synchronise your company wide calendars and contacts along with the ability to check you e-mail online and on your mobile devices.
  • SharePoint Online: A platform to replace the company and (/or) department shared drive. It’s a place to store and access documents that your company and team use to collaborate.
  • OneDrive for Business: A place where you can store all your work in progress (and not need to collaborate) documents. You can share the occasional document internal and external users.
  • Skype for Business: A service that allows you to video / audio conference, instant message and provide presence information with anyone who subscribes to the same service or who use Skype Personal (though audio only).
  • Yammer: A corporate social network and a way of distributing information throughout your company and for teams to collaborate across projects and departments.
  • Video: An area to upload and store video that you’d like to keep within the company.
  • Office Web Apps: Online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. From these you can open documents from SharePoint Online or OneDrive for Business.
  • Delve: Think of this as a company / department wide view of recently modified documents that you may have an interest in and have permission to see.
  • Sway: A new way of presenting and sharing information. Think of it as the same time of dumping ground for information that you’d put in a wiki / webpage / OneNote / Evernote / PowerPoint document but then presented and packaged in an attractive way.

You can access these apps when you log into your Office 365 portal:




Not all of these applications come with all flavours of Office 365, so for example Video only comes with the Enterprise versions of the software; not the standard Business version.

Other examples include Microsoft Access only coming with the Enterprise versions of the software and not the Business versions. We go into further details in Why choose Office 365 E3 over Office 365 Business Professional.

Not only that buy you can purchase Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Skype for Business separately as well; however each of these also come in two different flavours; Plan 1 and Plan 2.

  • What is the difference between Exchange Online Plan 1 and Plan 2?
  • What is the difference between SharePoint Online Plan 1 and Plan 2?
  • What is the difference between Skype for Business Plan 1 and Plan 2?

Office 365 licensing is quite a minefield so we’ve created a useful Office 365 Licensing Guide.