Friday, March 31, 2017


NewsDemon is yet another premium Usenet service vying for your attention and indeed money. The company provides high-speed access to newsgroup servers right around the world, and it’s among the Usenet services with the highest completion and retention rates on the market.

The platform is available in English, Spanish, French, German, and Dutch, giving it a more global reach than some rivals. As well as this, it also owns server farms throughout the US and Europe, which means you can access its newsgroups wherever you happen to be based in the world. This also bodes well for good performance.


Retention rates – the amount of days content is kept for – play an important role in the overall performance of Usenet services. NewsDemon doesn’t disappoint on this count, offering 3,150 days of binary retention and the same for text retention. That’s impressive, considering that many companies prioritise binary rates.

In total, you get access to more than 107,000 newsgroups, which seems to be around the norm these days. Of course, some firms offer more, but this is a pretty sizeable selection. It’s also good to see that NewsDemon boasts a 99.9% completion rate, meaning that you’re unlikely to come across a situation where you can’t finish a download because a bit of data has been lost somewhere.

These newsgroups are uncensored, as you’d expect, and all subscriptions come with a free newsreader service. Called NewsRover, it’s automatically configured for your account and lets you find the most relevant content. If you’re a Usenet newbie, then this is something to see as a definite positive, because many providers will put you through a more manual setup process.

Speed and security

As mentioned earlier, NewsDemon runs its own server farms, which should help in terms of performance. It’ll max out your broadband connection, whether it’s 5Mbps or 1000Mbps.

Along with helping to maintain top speeds for users, NewsDemon’s global network of server farms can also cater with high demand. They’ve been built to assure redundancy and optimal uptime, the firm insists. NewsDemon engineers constantly monitor services and requests too, helping to find and address outages and other issues as soon as possible.

As ever with a Usenet service, it’s always important to consider security and privacy. NewsDemon isn’t much different to the rest of the competition in that all accounts come with 256-bit secure connections. The company makes it clear that it won’t share user information with third-parties. It’s also good to see a free VPN service available (SlickVPN), adding a further layer of protection.

Pricing and support

NewsDemon prides itself on a strong customer support operation. You are able to get help from specialists to address account issues and potential faults affecting performance. This support line is available seven days a week, 24 hours a day. The company also runs a blog where it posts deals and customer announcements, although it isn’t updated all that often. Still, it’s a handy way to find out about price and product changes.

Speaking of pricing, sadly, it’s a rather fragmented affair. In all, there are 20 membership plans to choose from, offering different speed options and features based on user needs. There are monthly and block plans available, giving you lots of choice.

The cheapest monthly option costs £3.60 ($4.50, AU$5.90), and for that, you get 50GB of access, but you can opt for unlimited if you’re willing to pay a bit more. Block accounts start at £2.88 ($3.60, AU$4.70), giving you 10GB of data.

All accounts come with 50 connections, unlimited speed, 24/7 support, free headers, free posting, header compression and a free VPN tool. With the block plans, you can opt to set up a sharing agreement with other accounts. Also note that if you’re undecided about whether to sign up for the service, it’s possible to give it a whirl with a free 15GB trial.

Final verdict

It can be hard picking a good Usenet service because there are so many options available on the market, but you can’t go far wrong with NewsDemon. Not only do you get ample retention rates and an impressive completion percentage, you’re also given access to a platform that’s easy-to-use and secure. The sheer amount of account options may overwhelm some, but on the other hand, others may appreciate the diverse range of choices with the firm’s plans are.

BlackBerry KeyOne

Update: Hoping to snag the KeyOne, formerly known as Mercury, in April? Well, it looks like you'll have to wait until May now, according to a recent earnings call from BlackBerry.

The BlackBerry KeyOne has been unveiled at MWC 2017, and along with that slightly awkward name you'll find a handset which could struggle to fit in to today's mobile market.

Originally unveiled at CES 2017 back in January, this phone remained unnamed - dubbed only by the web as the ‘BlackBerry Mercury’ - until the end of February when TCL took to the stage in Barcelona to confirm the name, price, specs and release date of the KeyOne.

It's safe to say we're not fans of the name, but those still yearning for a decent physical keyboard on their smartphone could well be in luck.

BlackBerry KeyOne price and release date

The BlackBerry KeyOne price has been confirmed as £499 (around $620, AU$810), putting it up against the flagship Android handset from 2016.

You'll only have to wait a couple of months to get your hands on it too, with the BlackBerry KeyOne release date set for April.

BlackBerry KeyOne keyboard

The BlackBerry KeyOne is a blast from the past thanks to its physical keyboard. It combines what we liked about the BlackBerry Classic hardware with the BlackBerry DTEK50 software.

The familiar QWERTY keys are here with the quality feedback that you just can't get with a touchscreen, but you can also use it to scroll through pages by lightly gliding your fingers over the keys - a feature first seen in phones like the BlackBerry Passport

It’s like a giant trackpad, but it's not as smooth as we'd like. During our hands on time with the KeyOne scrolling web pages and contacts lists wasn't as smooth as using our finger on the touchscreen, 

New to the BlackBerry KeyOne is a fingerprint sensor, and it’s neatly tucked into the keyboard’s space bar. It feels almost as if it isn’t there.

Non-Blackberry Android users may mistake the space bar/fingerprint sensor combo for the home button (since it's way at the bottom), but the real home button is above the physical keyboard along with capacitive soft keys.

BlackBerry KeyOne interface and performance

The keyboard design might feel retro, but the software on the BlackBerry KeyOne is futuristic thanks to the fact that it's running Android 7.0 Nougat

Instead of bloatware or menu changes, this new BlackBerry simply sticks to stock Android, and TCL and BlackBerry were pretty adamant about keeping it that way. 

The real selling point here ( besides the familiarity of the Google Play Store and its ridiculously massive two million apps) is the highly secure encryption that’s good enough for world-leading governments.

While newer enterprise platforms like Samsung Knox and iOS 10 have been courting the same customers, this is one area in which BlackBerry can make a comeback. It's a meaningful audience that buys phones in bulk. 

We found general performance - provided by a Snapdragon 625 chip and 3GB of RAM - to be acceptable, but it's far from the slickest implementation of Android we've enjoyed.

Another slight quirk is the face the app draw is still an icon press away, even though the KeyOne is running Android 7 Nougat which switches a swipe up gesture to view your apps.

We reckon BlackBerry has reverted to the icon tap because swiping up on the screen isn't so easy when there's a full physical keyboard you need to get over first.

There's 32GB of storage housed inside the KeyOne, and that can be expanded by up to another 256GB via the microSD slot on the phone.

BlackBerry KeyOne design and display

Combining a 4.5-inch touchscreen and sizable physical QWERTY keyboard was never going to be easy, and it means the BlackBerry KeyOne sits rather awkwardly in the hand.

Type on the keyboard and you'll immediately need to grip the phone with both hands as it becomes very top heavy. That may not be an issue a lot of the time, but it rules out one-handed typing.

Another annoyance is the location of the Android navigation keys - which are on the screen, above the keyboard. This results in a rather awkward motion to hit -the home, back or multi-tasking icons, which detracts from the usability of the handset.

Something else we found a little confusing was the location of the power/lock button - which sits on the left of the phone. That's not usually an issue, but on the right a near identical key sits below the volume rocker.

This 'convenience key' can be programmed to launch your favorite app or action, but can easily be mistaken for the power switch. Once you've used the KeyOne for a few days you'll no doubt get used to the layout, but it's one obvious initial frustration.

The KeyOne is also quite thick, and its overall body is dominating in the palm. Thankfully the soft-touch rear provides plenty of grip, which you'll be pleased about as a lot of shuffling is required as you shift from the keyboard to the screen.

The soft-touch rear and metal round the edge don't ooze premium appeal though, which is a little bit of a shame considering the price tag, but the weight and construction gives the KeyOne a well-built vibe.

Early verdict

The BlackBerry brand is making a comeback thanks to TCL, but if it continues to produce phones like the KeyOne it'll likely remain on the sidelines of the mobile industry.

The BlackBerry KeyOne is a smartphone for the fans - offering those demanding a return of the physical keyboard to their mobile a solid, dependable option. The only problem is, those people are decreasing in numbers all the time.

For the money there's a wide range of better Android handsets on the market, but if you're desperate to feel those 52 tiny keys beneath your fingers once again you may just fall in love with the KeyOne. 

We just wish it had a better name.

MWC (Mobile World Congress) is the world's largest exhibition for the mobile industry, stuffed full of the newest phones, tablets, wearables and more. TechRadar is reporting live from Barcelona all week to bring you the very latest from the show floor. Head to our dedicated MWC 2017 hub to see all the new releases, along with TechRadar's world-class analysis and buying advice about your next phone.

New iPad

Innovating in the world of tablets is a difficult task right now, even for Apple. The iPad Pro brought about a new way of working and a variety of accessories to complement your 12.9-inch or smaller slate, but what if you don’t want those features?

This new iPad is the device designed for you, with a premium spec, a great looking design and top of the range features, but at a lower price and without all the productivity extras.

It’s much like the five star iPad Air 2 – the device it replaces in Apple's lineup – but there are a few key upgrades that make this an all round better tablet.

iPad 9.7 price and release date

  • Out now directly from Apple - other retailers to follow
  • Cheaper than iPad Air 2 at $329/£339/AU$469

The new iPad is cheaper than the iPad Air 2 was when it was on sale through Apple’s website. That's notable as affordable Apple products are hard to come by, especially when the iPhone only seems to raise in cost with each passing generation.

This new version of the iPad starts at $329/£339/AU$469 for the 32GB Wi-Fi model and goes all the way up to $559/£559/AU$799 if you want to get one with 128GB of storage and cellular connections.

There’s no 256GB version of this latest iPad, so you’re going to have to choose between 32GB or 128GB. You can buy this directly from Apple right now and we expect to see other retailers start to stock the iPad in the coming weeks.

Design and display

  • Similar design to previous iPads, but still looks great
  • Thicker and heavier than the iPad Air 2

If you’ve used an iPad Air 2, you’ll know what the design of the new iPad is like. This new version is a touch thicker than the Air 2, but that’s barely noticeable considering it’s still only 7.5mm thick, which makes it easy to hold in the hand.

It’s only 469g, so if you plan to carry this device on your commute you should find it light enough to hold onto without any stress.

You may want to use two hands though, as at 240 x 169.5 x 7.5mm it’s not particularly easy to grip onto with only one hand.

The back of the iPad has a metal body that feels smooth on your fingers but is still easy enough to grip. There’s no denying the iPad is still the best looking tablet you can buy, and the rounded corners makes this a gorgeous device to hold.

We’d recommend buying a case to ensure it won’t get scratched when putting it in your bag though.

When it comes to color choices, the new iPad is available in gold, silver or space grey. Sadly Apple hasn’t seen fit to include a new red version of the iPad to match the new brightly colored iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus.

Just below the screen on the new iPad there's a home button that features Touch ID, so you can keep all your data securely stored away behind a fingerprint lock. It’s not particularly easy to reach with your thumb though unless it’s lying down, so we’d usually just use a passcode instead.

When it comes to the screen, the iPad has a 9.7-inch display with a resolution of 2048 x 1536. That gives you 264 pixels per inch, which is the same picture quality as either iPad Pro model.

The picture on this iPad looks stunning, with a bright display also making everything we’ve watched look vibrant. This will be especially useful if you’re planning to watch a lot of movies on your new tablet.


Under the hood of the new iPad there's an upgraded chipset, but it’s not the top of the range offering we’d hoped to have from Apple.

It features the A9 chip alongside the M9 coprocessor, which is the same setup as we saw on the iPhone 6S. That's not something you should worry too much about though, as from our limited testing we found the new iPad to be particularly snappy and everything loaded quickly.

For connectivity, you have all the options such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth that you’d hope for, but there’s also a cellular version available if you want to be able to stream video while on the move.

The new iPad also runs iOS 10.2 software and is easily upgraded to the new iOS 10.3 software that launched a few days after the announcement. 

We expect this to get some upgrades for the following few years as well and Apple is particularly skilled at getting new software onto all of its products at the same time, so you shouldn't be kept waiting for new versions of iOS.

If you’re interested in the camera, know that there’s an 8MP shooter on the back and a 1.2MP front-facing sensor for video calling and selfies. We’ve yet to test out either, but we'll be sure to take a look in our upcoming full review.

Battery is also an important aspect when it comes to your new tablet, but Apple doesn’t reveal the size of its cells so we don’t have much data on how long it can last just yet.

Apple has claimed that it can last for up to 10 hours of video watching or web browsing over Wi-Fi though, which is the same claim it makes for the iPad Pro 9.7, so life is likely to be similar.

In any case, you can be sure we’ll extensively test this for our full review.

Early verdict

You won’t want to buy this if you already own an iPad Air 2. It’s very similar to that five star tablet from 2015 and the upgrades here are minimal.

But if you have an aging iPad or you’re looking to buy your first iOS tablet, this could be a great device for you to start off with. That reduced price is a big highlight of the new iPad and almost everything that made the iPad Air 2 such a winner is on offer here, plus an upgraded chipset.

Be sure to check back for our full review of the iPad 9.7 very soon.

AOC Agon AG352UCG gaming monitor

In many ways your gaming rig is only as good as the monitor you attach to it. You can spend huge amounts of cash on a top-of-the-range graphics card, but if it’s hooked up to an ageing monitor that can only handle low resolutions, all that power (and money) will go to waste.

That’s unlikely to happen with the AOC Agon AG352UCG, a feature-rich gaming monitor that promises to give you an immersive and silky-smooth gaming experience. 

One of the most recent entrants in AOC’s gaming-orientated Agon line of monitors, the AG352UCG is a mighty 35-inch monitor with a 21:9 ultra-wide aspect ratio.

Pricing and availability

You shouldn’t be too surprised to learn that such a large – and feature-packed – gaming monitor comes with a high price tag.

It’s priced at £799 ($899.99), with Australian price and availability yet to be confirmed. It’s certainly not a cheap monitor, but when you compare it to some of its fellow ultra-wide competitors, such as the Acer Predator X34, which offers very similar features for $999 (£899, AU$1,899), it’s not too bad of a deal.

The more business-orientated Philips Brilliance BDM3490UC comes in lower at £670 (around $960, AU$1,350), but you’re sacrificing size (it’s 27-inch rather than 35-inch) as well as some of the gaming-focused features like G-Sync.

If you’re looking to buy any ultra-wide monitor, you’re going to be paying quite a bit of money, and the AOC Agon AG352UCG gaming monitor sits around the upper middle-range of what you’d expect to pay. If you were already eyeing-up the Acer Predator X34, then the AG352UCG is a very compelling alternative for less money.


An ultra-wide 35-inch monitor is inevitably going to be a large beast that will dominate any desk it’s placed on – this is a monitor that’s going to take up a lot of space, with dimensions of 847 x 587 x 266.45mm. However, as soon as you plug it in and start playing games, any concerns over size fade away.

With the stand attached (you need to screw it in yourself), you can tilt, swivel and adjust the height to make the screen comfortable to use. You can also wall-mount it using a Vesa 100x100 attachment. AOC isn't going for a slim and modest look for this monitor, and the bezel that surrounds the screen is quite thick, especially at the bottom, which further increases the footprint; it does house built-in speakers, though, which justify some of the size of the bezel.

As you’d expect from a gaming monitor the design is certainly striking, and although it's not as aggressive as the design of the Acer Predator X34, it helps the monitor stand out (as if this huge monitor needed any more help with that). The front of the AOC Agon AG352UCG is finished in black, with the ‘Agon’ logo front and center.

There are also two long LED strips along the bottom that can display green, red or blue depending on your preference. The brightness of these LEDs can be changed using the on-screen menu, and they can be turned off as well. The effect is quite nice, although it’s a shame it’s limited to the three colors, which limits customization.     

The LEDs also reach around to the back of the monitor, which has a plastic black and silver design. The overall design is pretty nice, and won’t look out of place next to many people’s rigs. It’s also not as in-your-face as some gaming peripheral designs, so it won’t stick out like a sore thumb if you’re using it in more straight-laced environments.

Around the back of the monitor is an HDMI port, a DisplayPort and four USB 3.0 ports, along with audio out. This isn’t the widest selection of inputs, but when you’re playing games at 3440 x 1440, a DisplayPort is all you really need.


We've mentioned just how large the AOC Agon AG352UCG gaming monitor is. If you’re sitting close enough it can fill most of your field of vision, and with the help of the curved design it creates in a pretty immersive experience. 

If you’re worried that the short and wide aspect ratio of the AOC Agon AG352UCG will lead to a cramped workspace, fear not, as the 3440 x 1440 resolution is high enough to leave you plenty of desktop real estate. It’s also high enough to provide stunning graphics, while not being quite as taxing on your hardware as a 4K (3840 x 2160) monitor. If you’re moving from a 16:9 (the more common aspect ratio) 1080p screen, you’re going to be blown away.

And that’s before we’ve mentioned that this monitor is G-Sync compatible. This is an adaptive sync technology created by Nvidia that eliminates screen tearing (an annoying visual glitch) and allows higher refresh rates of up to 240Hz for smooth-feeling gameplay.


By supporting G-Sync, the AOC Agon AG352UCG joins the likes of the Asus MG248Q, Asus ROG Swift PG248Q and AOC Agon AG271QG. For many gamers, the inclusion of G-Sync makes any monitor a very tempting purchase. 

Combine this with the large size, high resolution and ultra-wide aspect ratio, and the AOC Agon AG352UCG ticks many of the boxes required of a formidable gaming monitor. 

It’s worth noting, however, that the maximum refresh rate of the AOC Agon AG352UCG is 100hz – so not quite as high as G-Sync allows, although it’s the same as its closest rival, the Acer Predator X34.

Other features include built-in stereo speakers, 2000:1 contrast ratio, 100% sRGB color gamut support and a 4ms response time. A large range of settings can be accessed via an on-screen menu, which is controlled by a toggle located on the underside of the bezel.  

The on-screen menus of monitors are usually pretty fiddly to navigate, but this one works quite well, and you can easily cycle through the various options.


The AOC Agon AG352UCG is certainly feature-packed on paper, so we were excited to test it out. However, first we needed to give the monitor a slight calibration, as the default settings were a little too bright for our liking. It only took a few minutes, however, thanks to the on-screen controls.

We then gave the monitor a spin with the excellent Battlefront 1. This is a hectic multiplayer game that really benefits from a good monitor, and the AOC Agon AG352UCG delivers in spades. The game's graphics are amazing, and really shine on the AOC Agon AG352UCG’s large and high-resolution screen, while the wide aspect ratio gives you an immersive view of the battle field and the carnage that surrounds you. The wide aspect ratio also gives you an advantage while playing, as you’re able to spot enemies that you might not otherwise.

Battlefield 1, like many modern games, correctly identified the unusual aspect ratio, and configured the interface and game’s graphics accordingly. Pre-rendered cut-scenes remain the same aspect ratio, however, so you will get black bars down either side of the screen while these play – this also happens if you watch movies full-screen.

It's a small price to pay for such an immersive playing experience, and thanks to the G-Sync features, along with the wide aspect ratio, this monitor can really give you a competitive edge when playing games.

The AOC Agon AG352UCG also has fantastic viewing angles, so if you use it to watch films with friends, or have people crowd around it while you play, then pretty much everyone will get a great view. An anti-glare coating on the screen does a brilliant job of preventing reflections from appearing without compromising image quality.

There's also a low blue light setting, which is designed to help you work at night without straining your eyes or impacting your ability to get to sleep.

Returning to Battlefield 1, it’s an excellent game to show off the AOC Agon AG352UCG’s color handling. A wide range of different environments and colors are featured, and each one – from deep green forests to the brown, hellish landscape of no-man’s land and the poppy-strewn fields of the new They Shall Not Pass expansion – is displayed brilliantly.

There was no noticeable input lag during our games, with the AOC Agon AG352UCG’s G-Sync working with a GTX 1080 GPU to offer an incredibly immersive and responsive experience.

The high resolution and ultra-wide design also worked brilliantly in Windows 10, with the extra screen space giving you plenty of room to have multiple windows and programs open at once, making this a great monitor for productivity as well as for games.

Final verdict

If you’ve got the desk space, a powerful graphics card and the requisite bank balance, the AOC Agon AG352UCG is an excellent investment for gamers. It’s a huge monitor that will fill your field of vision, and if you love being fully immersed in your games then it's well worth considering. 

It’s also a damn good monitor when you’re not gaming, with the high 3440 x 1440 resolution giving you plenty of space when using your PC for work.

However, it’s when playing games that the AOC Agon AG352UCG truly shines, with great color reproduction, fast response times and smooth frame-rates curtesy of G-Sync.

Of course, to make use of G-Sync you need a compatible Nvidia graphics card; however, even if you can't access that feature there’s still a lot to like about this excellent gaming monitor.

Microsoft Office 365

[Editor's Note: What immediately follows is a rundown of the latest developments and features Microsoft has added to Office 365 since this review was last updated.]

March 2017

February 2017

  • Microsoft has updated Visio Pro for Office 365 with a database reverse engineering tool that allows you to easily create a visual representation directly from source data.
  • Office 365 benefited from the introduction of a security analytics tool which rates your current security configuration, and makes suggestions on possible improvements.
  • The Office team announced that the OneNote REST API now supports application-level permissions.
  • Excel got new features based on Power Query technology, including support for the percentage data type, along with a new OLE DB connector.
  • Microsoft released Office Training Roadmaps which help businesses keep track of training programmes for the various productivity apps.

January 2017

  • Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection got several new features for tighter email security, namely URL Detonation and Dynamic Delivery.
  • Microsoft graced Office 365 with a new Setup section on the navigation menu, which provides convenient and easy access to all setup-related settings in one location.
  • Office 365 was crowned king of all productivity apps by Okta, outdoing second-place by a factor of 1.3 to 1 as 2016 came to a close.
  • Microsoft brought in a raft of new courses from LinkedIn Learning to the Office Training Centre, with over 20 offerings on working with Word and PowerPoint.
  • StaffHub, a nifty new app which allows for the management of shifts for deskless workers, became available for Office 365 users with a K1, E1, E3 or E5 plan.

December 2016

  • A new OneDrive for Business admin centre began rolling out to release customers, with general availability promised for early 2017.
  • Microsoft laid out its grand vision of how the firm intends to integrate Teams (its Slack rival) with Microsoft Planner so working across the two is a seamless affair.
  • Microsoft made the Accessibility Checker more easily found across all Office 365 apps, and introduced automated alternate text descriptions in Word and PowerPoint.
  • An official guide on the ‘preferred deployment practices’ for Office 365 ProPlus was released, including advice on preparing the ground, and maintenance afterwards.
  • New statistics emerged from data protection firm Bitglass showing that Office 365 is twice as popular as Google’s G Suite.

November 2016

  • Office 365 users got the benefit of real-time co-authoring in PowerPoint, as well as in the Word app.
  • Office Lens received a couple of new features, including the full integration of Immersive Reader, and a new tool called Frame Guide to help the visually impaired.
  • Outlook Customer Manager arrived in Office 365, enabling businesses to track and manage – and hopefully grow – their customer relationships.
  • Microsoft reintroduced Access, its heavyweight database software, to Office 365 Business and Business Premium customers.
  • Microsoft officially took the wraps off Teams, the firm’s Slack rival that leverages the whole gamut of Office 365’s apps and services.

October 2016

  • Excel 2016 got new features based on Power Query tech, including an improved web connector and enhanced Query Editor, as well as Query Parameters support.
  • Microsoft introduced the ability to create (and collaborate on) Office documents from within a Yammer group.
  • In an earnings report, Microsoft announced Office 365 user numbers: 85 million active commercial users, and 24 million consumers.
  • A batch of new apps were revealed for Office, including an app for invoicing, and tracking expenses, along with one for keeping tabs on your business’ web presence.

September 2016

If you want to see older news and developments pertaining to Office 365, then check out the Archives page at the end of this review.

Otherwise, now move on to Page 2 for our full review and detailed look at what Office 365 offers, and how it can help you become more productive.

Darren Allan contributed to this article

It's been a long time since Office just meant Word, Outlook, Excel and PowerPoint (plus Access - remember that?). In fact, there's a confusingly wide range of tools and services under the Office umbrella.

In the last few years, Office 365 has established itself as the definitive business cloud service bringing together those familiar productivity services, plus an ongoing range of new features.


There are personal and business versions of Office 365 – home users get the latest version of the Office desktop and mobile applications plus email with and extra cloud storage with OneDrive, along with free Skype minutes every month. If you want to edit documents in Office on your iPad, or using the mobile Office apps on a Windows 10 PC, you need an Office 365 subscription.

Office 365 Personal is for a single user and allows one download of Office. Office 365 Home Premium costs $99.99 per year (£79.99, AU$119.99) for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Access and Publisher.

That's good value if you share it with the family; up to five people in the same household can have their own installations of Office on their PC or Mac at the same time (for the Office programs that run on a Mac).

When the next version of Office comes out, you'll get it on the same subscription, and you'll get new features as they become available. If you're at college or university (or you teach at one) you're eligible for Office 365 University on a four-year subscription for $79.99 (£60, AU$99) that you can use on up to two PCs or Macs.

Office 365 for business

Microsoft offers three tiers for businesses with less than 300 seats. Office 365 Business Essentials allows you to use online Office apps only (no desktop applications) plus 1TB of online storage per user and a 50GB Outlook inbox with email, calendar and contacts for £3.10 ($5, AU$5.50) per month per user on an annual contract.


Office 365 Business offers Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Access, Publisher and Lync, with a subscription licence for each user to run them on up to five PCs or Macs at once. You still get the online storage but no email services. Office 365 Business Premium combines Office 365 Business and Business Essentials; all the applications, plus email and storage.

Download Office

Enterprise business users get a full collaboration service with Exchange email, SharePoint document storage, Skype for Business unified communications, OneDrive for Business storage sync and sharing, Yammer enterprise social networking, Delve for tracking what your colleagues are working on, and Groups for ad hoc collaboration.

All that, alongside an increasing list of new services like GigJam (for sharing just parts of documents so you can have the right information available in a meeting) and Planner (a simple planning tool for groups), plus a subscription to the Office 2016 desktop and mobile applications, which includes early access to new features.


There are several different plans, depending on what mix of services you need. The E5 plan, for example, includes rights management services for encrypting documents and choosing who can see them and how long they're available for, Delve Analytics for tracking how people are spending their time, Power BI for graphical data analysis and business intelligence, and the Office 365 video portal for publishing video inside your company.

In the year since Office 2016 was released, Microsoft has continued to add new features to both the Office 365 service (which you expect in a cloud service) and the Office 2016 applications (which you might not), as well as the mobile versions of the apps for iOS, Android and Windows, new apps like Sway for 'digital storytelling' (that's somewhere between making a mobile app and designing a website), and the Office Online web apps.

That includes new admin features like the new look portal, customising sign-in pages, improved encryption controls, self-service password reset, plus a deal to use Wix to build websites after SharePoint public websites were removed.

New features arriving

The Office Online apps get regular updates, including new features plus integration with other cloud services like Skype and Dropbox – Word and PowerPoint now have the Format Painter for transferring formatting from one section to another, and Excel Online has more number formats, more features in Pivot tables and a high contrast view for accessibility.

Office Online updates

The mobile apps keep adding features like Find and Morph transitions in PowerPoint, or ink annotations in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. You can record audio in OneNote for iOS and on the web; that's better than OneNote on Windows 10 Mobile where audio recordings cut off after a minute.

Because Office 365 is a subscription service, the familiar desktop applications get new features. Word is about to get a spelling and grammar checker that uses machine learning to understand your writing, and a Researcher tool for easier searching for facts and quotes.

PowerPoint has gained several new transitions, a Designer tool that comes up with new looks for your presentation (very much like Sway) and a way to summarise your presentation with Zoom. Excel has new functions and charts and shape recognition when you draw on-screen, plus many more connectors for getting data into Power Query, while Outlook lets you '@ mention' people in email the way you would on Facebook or Twitter.

Office Online

But the changes also include removing some useful features. Changing the Save As options in Office 2016 has been particularly painful, and Office 365 no longer allows you to temporarily stream Office 2016 to a PC that you want to work on, if the Office Online versions don't have the features you need. Desktop Outlook is going to get the Focused Inbox that's so popular in Outlook for iOS and Android – but it will replace the Clutter feature in Exchange Online that files emails you're not likely to be interested in. Clutter worked in every client that you can read Exchange email in, including on older devices (especially Windows Phone 8.1), whereas Focused Inbox will only work in the latest versions of Outlook.

The enterprise Office 365 service is also where Microsoft tries out new features that will appear in the on-premise server products, like the new SharePoint 2016. Exchange Server 2016 is based on the latest version of Exchange Online, which has been available on Office 365 for some time (and you can buy some Exchange Online features to use with your own Exchange Server, like Exchange Online Protection spam and malware filtering).

Service health

SharePoint 2016 catches up with existing Office 365 features like chatting while you're collaborating on documents stored in OneDrive for Business, and will get newer features gradually. Improvements like the new document library experience, and the suggestions in the new iOS SharePoint app of what sites you should look at, are already showing up in SharePoint Online and will appear on premises once they've been tested in the cloud.

In the past, Skype for Business hasn't had the full unified communications features of the on-premise version because PABX integration is harder in the cloud, but Microsoft has been signing up partners like BT to offer voice services for Office 365, as well as creating cloud-only features like Skype for Business broadcast meetings for very large numbers of users (which will soon include real-time live translation and captions).

As you'd expect, you manage Office 365 mainly through the browser (although you can use PowerShell commands if you need to change settings in bulk). The admin portal is getting a major redesign that will soon become the standard way to manage the service.

Admin Centre

The previous interface had a minimalist, low-contrast, 'Metro' style that wasn't particularly efficient, with key tools relegated to a list of links at the side of the page and a dashboard that always showed the setup features even when you'd been running the service for years.


Now there's an expanding menu on the left with ten sections for managing and monitoring the Office 365 service, each of which expands to let you click straight into the specific area you need. This also makes room for features like Groups that have been added to the service over the years, which show up in their logical place (along with the traditional role-based groups).

As you navigate through the different sections, the tools are also grouped logically, and when you click on the details for a user or a group, all the information pops up in a window, with the most common commands (like resetting a password or deleting the user) at the top.


The home screen that replaces the former dashboard is far more useful – and you can even customise it. There are 'cards' for common tasks, from managing users to downloading the Office clients, and you can rearrange them, delete any you don't need quick access to, and add others.

Edit admin centre

The admin interfaces for Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Skype for Business and Yammer are now much easier to find as well; they have their own section on the menu, which also links to the new Security and Compliance centre, and to Azure Active Directory (even if you don't buy any of the premium AAD services, using Office 365 automatically creates an Azure AD for your business, but in the past it hasn't been obvious how to get to it in order to carry out any management).

You'd expect Azure AD to open as a separate site, because it's a separate service. It's slightly more confusing that the Security and Compliance centre opens in its own browser tab, but has the same design as the Office 365 admin centre.

Security and compliance

This new portal brings together all the security tools for the service, from assigning permissions to admin users, to managing devices, setting up alerts for user and admin behaviour and choosing how spam and malware in email are handled. All that sits alongside the tools for setting retention policies, running ediscovery searches and archiving content, and details of how Microsoft secures the different Office 365 services.

And it's downright annoying that all the admin portals for the Office 365 services still open in different tabs. Plus they still have the white-space-heavy, hard to navigate interfaces that are basic rather than simple, in which it can be hard to find the tools you need quickly (and Yammer has its own design again). We'd like to see them move to the new portal design too; the current mix of interfaces feels fragmented and confusing.


It might even make sense for more of the settings to move to themed admin portals the way the security and compliance options have, rather than matching the admin options for the separate on-premise Office servers. Key settings from the Exchange, Skype for Business and SharePoint services are already duplicated in the new admin portal; if they're all you need, you'll never need to use the full service portals at all.

Rooms and equipment

Getting started

Setting up Office 365 is fast – provisioning an E3 or E5 tenant takes only a few minutes – and it's straightforward for a small company, especially if you're migrating from Exchange Online. You can start the wizard to walk you through setup – including connecting to the domain you're using for email addresses, or buying one if you don't already have one – straight from the purchase screen, or you can come back and work through the individual steps later.

You can set up users by connecting to your on-premise Active Directory by importing details (from a CSV file, for example) or by creating users one at a time (that's most suited to a small business); and when you create individual users you can assign licences as you go. If you want to pick and choose who gets which features, you can allocate licences individually for Office 2016, Office Web Apps, SharePoint, Skype for Business, Exchange and any other services.

There are other settings that you can change if you want, but not so many that things get confusing. You can customise the Office 365 theme, set the password expiry policy, choose whether you get new features when they're generally released or try them as soon as they're in preview (and that can apply to all users or just the more advanced users that you pick individually), turn on multi-factor authentication, set the policies for Azure Rights Management if your plan includes this document encryption service, and choose whether users can search Office 365 content using Cortana, or use Office Online to work with files in other cloud storage services like Box.


There's more work to do if you have email accounts on other services that you need to import data from (there's an import option where you can upload data or even ship drives to Microsoft if that would take too long), and if you're a large business that needs to mix on-premise servers with Office 365 you'll need to plan which users have accounts where and how you sync between your AD and the cloud service. But you don't have to be an expert to get a small business online with Office 365.

Ever since Exchange 2013, the web version of Outlook has had the same features and interface as the Outlook client – it's also what the Exchange Online admin centre is built on, and you can just mark a user as an administrator. This removes the need for an Exchange mailbox to administer Exchange, so you don't have to waste a mail licence and storage quota on a shared mail admin account. You can also give different administrators limited permissions; if someone only needs to use the compliance or discovery tools, they won't get access to mail flow and user settings.

The admin centre is crammed with features, organised into around a dozen categories. Previously complex tasks, like setting up a federation trust to make free/busy times in user calendars visible or setting up shared mailboxes for call centres, are far simpler and you are guided through important steps (like giving users the right permissions to access the shared mailbox).

Exchange admin

Public folders are still available, by popular demand. Like everything else in the new Exchange Online, they're simple to set up with helpful error messages that make clear what you've done wrong and how to fix it.

There's also a helpful balance between enforcing policy and users getting work done. The data loss prevention tools in the Enterprise version of Exchange Online let you set up rules to stop people emailing personal information like credit card numbers (with a smart check that employs the same algorithm used to issue credit card numbers, rather than just looking for any 16 numbers in a row).

But users can also override most of these policy warnings by filling in an explanation and confirming they know the message will be logged. The information can be encrypted to keep it safe until the manager approves the explanation.

The tips reminding users of the policy show up in Outlook clients, and Outlook webmail. But if you send a message from your smartphone that breaks a policy, the rule can forward the message to your manager or mail you to confirm that you meant to break the policy.

Malware report

But while the ultra-minimalist, white-space design is well organised, and will be familiar to Exchange Server admins, it doesn't match the style of the new Office 365 portal. There is also quite a lot of overlap – many tools from the Exchange Online portal also show up as links in the main portal to the auditing, mail flow and information protection tools (spam and malware protection and data leakage policies that block or warn users who are trying to send details like credit card numbers in email). These open the tools in either the Exchange Online or Security and Compliance portals.

Spam report

There are also some settings you might expect to find in Exchange that are in the main Office 365 portal, like choosing whether users can share their calendars with people outside your organisation.

Like Exchange Server, you can use Exchange Online for mobile device management by setting policies that will apply to any smartphone, like forcing the user to turn on encryption and set a PIN, and even setting how often they have to re-enter it.

Office 365 also includes Microsoft's Intune MDM service which adds extra features like detecting whether devices are jailbroken, and letting you mark emails and documents that can only be opened in approved mobile apps, like Office, and only saved in specific locations. You can also selectively wipe devices, removing business data but not personal photos and information.


The Exchange tools for managing mobile device access are still in the Exchange Online admin portal, which is where admins who are used to Exchange Server will expect to find them. The Intune MDM features are in the Security and Compliance centre – and yet again, that opens a new browser tab, because it has its own interface.

OAW for device admin

This is the kind of duplication we expect Microsoft to clean up as it continues to improve the Office 365 admin UI, and the disparate interfaces shouldn't distract from the fact that you're getting a powerful mail system with all the options you need. And if you don't need to delve into those options, you can be up and running quickly with a rock solid mail system. Exchange Online remains one of the crown jewels of Office 365.

If you've used Office 365 before, you'll remember the admin portal for the unified communications service formerly known as Lync was distinctly minimal, with very few settings you could change. As Skype for Business gains more features, there are correspondingly more options and controls, but it's a far cry from the complexity of the on-premise version; this is one of the services where being in the cloud makes unified communications dramatically simpler.

Now that Skype for Business can connect to Skype, you can control that integration, as well as allowing or blocking calls and chats with Skype for Business users outside your company, and choosing whether the Skype Broadcast service is available for creating large public online meetings. Again, the controls for external connections are duplicated in the main Office 365 admin portal – for many businesses, they're the only settings you might want to change, so you might never need the full admin centre.

Manage skype

You can also set the defaults for notifications and privacy mode and add your own boilerplate to meeting invitations. You can include your company logo, links to support, any legal terms and conditions that apply to meetings, or a few lines of text you wish to be included in all invitations.

Skype for business custom

You can use Skype for Business for dial-in conferencing, with or without toll-free numbers, so your users can phone in rather than using the Skype for Business client – that's included in the E5 Office 365 plan, or you can buy it as an add-on. You can also use PSTN Calling to call standard phone numbers and receive calls from anyone, not just other Skype for Business users (again, that's included in some plans but not in others – confusingly, there's a version of the E5 plan that has it, and another that doesn't).

Skype IM

You can even use Skype for Business as your PBX – as well as making and receiving calls, you get PBX features like transferring calls, having several phones ring when a call arrives, putting your phone on 'do not disturb' except for a few key contacts, playing hold music and handling voicemail. Again, you need the right licences.

The admin centre also includes a handy list of tools for troubleshooting, and a very minimal set of reports.

Lync Online was already an impressive HD videoconferencing system with excellent tools for online meetings. The Skype integration makes it a great choice for letting your customers and partners reach you without the cost of a phone call, and if you add the dial-in conferencing, PSTN calling and PBX tools, it's close to being a cloud service that offers a full unified communications system. But buying all those options as separate add-ons, some from third-party communications providers, does make everything more complicated than we'd like.

For a while, SharePoint Online was the red-headed stepchild of Office 365. The name didn't even appear in the list of apps – users just saw links to OneDrive and Sites – and the ribbon-based interface felt dated and out of step with the rest of Office 365.

But cloud competition like Box and Dropbox hasn't killed off SharePoint, and even though the personal cloud storage of OneDrive for Business is still part of Office 365, Microsoft has just given SharePoint itself a major refresh that updates the key features for document sharing and collaboration, and adds far better mobile support.

SharePoint Online also connects to the new services Microsoft has been adding to Office 365 like Groups and Planner, making the collaboration options feel more coherent.

SharePoint new

Sites for personal and shared team use and document libraries are still at the heart of SharePoint – document collections can now be as large as 25TB, and there's a new document library experience that looks much more like OneDrive, or a blog.

Team Site

Team sites automatically show popular documents and details of who in the team has been working on what, and there are new tools for creating pages on the site as if you were writing and publishing a blog – so you don't need to create HTML or use a separate publishing tool any more. Just pick web parts – images, events, links, videos, Yammer feeds – and drag them into place.

SharePoint Team Sites

Some Office 365 plans include the SharePoint Video service, for uploading and streaming videos. This is going to be replaced by the Azure Streams video service, though not until the new service has all the same features as the existing one.

Office video formats

All the existing options for customising SharePoint are still available. You can include language translation services for sites and documents, and for structured tasks you can add workflows designed in Visual Studio and have them hosted on Azure, or you can create a Flow or a PowerApp on Azure that lets you configure workflows that connect other services – like Salesforce or Dynamics – to SharePoint.

If you need the same kind of full-trust managed .NET code that lets you customise SharePoint on your own server, you can put that on Azure. As a multi-tenant cloud service, SharePoint Online has to protect users from each other's potentially performance-hogging code, so this is a sensible approach. But many of the features you'd once have built that way are available as apps written in HTML and CSS that run on SharePoint: you can get blogging tools, mapping tools, address checking tools and more – and admins can choose which apps are available in the SharePoint Store and who is allowed to buy more.

Plus SharePoint 2016 adds a new extension framework based on common JavaScript frameworks like React and Angular, where the code runs on the client device, not on the server. That's still in development, but it brings SharePoint up to date with the latest web development technologies.

SharePoint Home

SharePoint also has a new way of controlling access. Admins can still grant and block access to SharePoint sites, but team sites work with the new, self-service Groups feature in Office 365. Anyone can create a group of colleagues and the group automatically gets a team site with a document library, a shared calendar and inbox, a Skype for Business chat room that you can also get as email, along with a OneNote notebook, an always-on Skype conversation you can drop in and out of, and the new Planner task management tool.

It works the other way round, as well; make a team site or add colleagues to Planner and you create a group.

Planner is like a simple version of Trello – you create a card for each task, assign it to someone and save it into different 'buckets' that you use to organise your plan. It doesn't have much in the way of notifications yet, but Microsoft is adding features quickly.

Groups 2

Groups also have the kind of connectors you might have seen in Slack. You can connect a Twitter feed or a variety of services like GitHub, Trello and ZenDesk to a group to get alerts – so you could follow the hashtag for the product your team works on, or see customer support issues in the group.

You can search across all the sites you have access to and when you find a useful document, you can follow it as if it was a friend on Facebook. Results include automatic recommendations based on what the people you're connected to are working on, and your previous behaviour. That's based on the Delve feature, which analyses what documents your colleagues are working on that are relevant to you – you can see that in the Delve service but the information will now show up in SharePoint too.

Search is smart: search for 'marketing deck' and results will include PowerPoint presentations (that don't have the word 'deck' anywhere in the contents), with particularly relevant slides highlighted in the results.

The SharePoint newsfeed is still available if you want to use that to keep track of what's going on. This looks very much like Facebook or Twitter – you can follow people, sites, projects, hashtags, documents and events, and you'll see in the activity stream when someone does something new or makes a change (you can filter the stream to make it more manageable). You can also preview documents and videos straight from the Newsfeed, or turn any item into an action that becomes part of your task list.

Customise SharePoint portal

You use Twitter-style @ names to mention people and you can see when other people have mentioned you (you get an email as well as seeing it on the Newsfeed, so you don't have to update feverishly to stay on top of work). Also, you can post your own updates to everyone or just the team you're working with.

Customise SharePoint portal 2

But now that the Yammer social network service is available to all Office 365 customers, you can switch to using that instead. It's a much more powerful tool for collaboration that's getting regular updates – and again, it's going to integrate with Groups soon, so a team can choose to collaborate through Yammer or the other Groups tools.

Yammer design

You can view and edit documents in the Office Online web apps, and you can preview file types you can't edit, like Visio. Sharing documents – with colleagues or up to 10,000 external partners and customers who don't need to have SharePoint themselves – is also much simpler. Click on the sharing icon and type in names or email addresses, choose whether they can view or edit – or copy an obfuscated URL you can send in an instant message or put in a blog post.

Shared documents are marked by an icon you can click to see who you're sharing with (and you can stop sharing a document when you're done collaborating). Many Office 365 plans include Azure Rights Management Services, so you can control not just who can see a document but what they can do with it, turning off the printing and copying functions for confidential information.

SharePoint started out as a way to share document libraries and create workflows. It's now a flexible collaboration tool for ad hoc groups as well as a formal, centralised information store, with mobile apps as well as simple web publishing.

The SharePoint Online admin centre reflects that. There's a long list of settings that lets you control apps, connections, rights management, collaboration and whether users get new features and the new OneDrive for Business interface.

For many smaller businesses, that's all you need and you can hide the other controls. But if you need them, there's a full set of configuration options for everything from InfoPath to the taxonomy for how documents are indexed, in an interface that SharePoint Server administrators will find familiar (although it's going to confuse anyone starting with the new Office 365 admin centre).

OneDrive and OneDrive for Business

Microsoft uses the same name for its business and consumer cloud storage services: OneDrive and OneDrive for Business are now more similar than they used to be – in particular they use the same sync client, which fixes a lot of problems with OneDrive for Business – but they're still different services.

OneDrive is Microsoft's consumer cloud storage service, which gives users 5GB of free storage with the option to purchase 50GB for $1.99 a month (£1.99, AU$2), plus Office Web Apps. If you buy Office 365 Home, Personal, or University, you get 1TB of OneDrive space.

OneDrive for Business is the cloud storage service that's part of the business Office 365 plans (and also available as part of on-premise SharePoint Server), with either 1TB or 5TB of storage per user, depending on which plan you choose.

Office 365 tenants also get SharePoint Online, which includes 10GB of secure cloud storage with an extra 500MB per user, and the option of paying for up to 25TB of storage in total. You can choose how the SharePoint space storage is allocated between users and control how they use it, like limiting who they can share documents with or forcing them to encrypt confidential documents using rights management software.

OneDrive for Business, which is confusingly labelled OneDrive in the Office 365 portal to fit on the ribbon, lets users store their own working documents privately. If you're familiar with SharePoint, you can think of it as like the storage in My Site – and documents can still have workflows or be checked in and out.

OneDrive in office 2016

Users can also share documents with specific people – inside or outside the company – by clicking the three dots next to the file name and choosing Share, or from the properties and preview pane for the file. This interface has been updated a couple of times but it's still easy to share documents and see who has access.

Users can choose whether each person they invite can edit or just view the document and whether or not they need to sign in (it's possible to choose whether to enforce sign in globally). It's very clear if a document is shared and with whom, and you can stop sharing a document at any point. OneDrive for Business storage is part of SharePoint and you can apply policies to it in the same way.

OneDrive share

If you want to share a document in OneDrive for Business with everyone (including those to whom you give the URL of your OneDrive for Business), you can move it into the Shared with Everyone folder by default.

If you want to make it available only to a specific group of people, you can put a document into the library for a Team Site instead. That uses the SharePoint tenant storage and you can get those files onto a PC by opening them from SharePoint Online, opening the document library in Explorer (from the ribbon on the SharePoint site) or syncing the document library as a list in Outlook. Team mailboxes also save information into the SharePoint library.

Although the range of storage and sharing options in Office 365 sound confusing, in practice they make a lot of sense. Users get the option to stick to SharePoint shared document libraries or use something that looks like popular free cloud storage services – but which gives you control and security.

Sharing documents is simple and users can easily collaborate (they can even edit the same document simultaneously, in the Office desktop applications or the Office Web Apps) but again, you have tools to control this.

When it first came out, Office 2016 had excellent integration with OneDrive, on both Mac and Windows, letting you browse your online folders and see the folders you'd used recently right on the Backstage menu. A recent update stripped that out on Office 2016 for Windows, replacing it with a very slow dialog that doesn't show any recent folders at all – and doesn't even show you what the file name will be. It's a definite step backwards.

All apps

What else is in Office 365?

Depending on which Office 365 plan you choose, you'll get a range of new apps and services. All the plans include Sway, a new authoring tool that uses machine learning to do a lot of the layout work for you, creating responsive layouts that work on smartphones as well as desktop web browsers.

Business plans include the Planner service, as well as GigJam, a collaboration service that lets you share specific pages inside a document – you can just cross out pages and paragraphs you don't want colleagues to see. It's an interesting idea that needs a lot more work to be really useful.

Delve Analytics

The E5 plan includes the Power BI cloud service that lets you visualise information in charts and dashboards, and an extra tool in Delve called Analytics that analyses your working habits to tell you how much time you spend in meetings and email compared to your colleagues, to help you make the most of your time.

There are also related Office services you can add to Office 365, like Project Online, which is a full-fledged portfolio project management system.

Office recent changes

Expect Microsoft to keep adding new services to Office 365 – like the ones it plans to create from LinkedIn.

Office 365 is hands-down the best way to buy Office, whether you're a consumer user wanting the Office desktop apps with all the latest features, or a business that needs email and collaboration tools without the hassle of running your own servers. Yes, you pay a monthly fee, but you keep getting new features as well as useful cloud services.

We liked

The new Office 365 admin centre is a real improvement, making it easy to find features that used to be tucked away inside specific services

Exchange Online is one of the best business email systems around, and no-one knows how to run it better than Microsoft. Skype for Business has gone from VoIP meetings in the cloud to something that can be a full unified communications service – if you're prepared to pay for all the conferencing and telephony services you need to make it work. And SharePoint is getting a much needed refresh, plus the formerly infuriating OneDrive for Business is now both usable and reliable, and Groups give teams a simple way of working together on projects.

We disliked

Overall, the Office 365 admin interface remains disparate and disjointed; Microsoft needs to do more work here. In part, that's due to the overlapping tools, from the formal systems that replicate the server options larger businesses want – especially if they're migrating to the cloud – to the simpler, ad hoc tools based on Groups that are more approachable but also sometimes lack features. Whatever you need, you can probably do it with Office 365 – if you can find out where and how.

If you want the latest features and improvements, you need to opt-in to try previews – but that can mean losing useful options as well, like the confusing changes that make the Save As dialog slow and unwieldy in Office 2016. If you don't get features in preview, it can still take a long time for them to reach all the Office 365 tenants once they're supposed to be available.

Final verdict

Office 365 is a reliable service that integrates email, document sharing and conferencing almost seamlessly with the latest desktop versions of the Office software – which now get regular updates and extra features – and is evolving new cloud tools and services like Sway and Planner.

It's simple enough for small businesses and also has powerful options for larger companies, who will find that the savings from putting commodity IT in the cloud, while still being able to integrate with on-premise servers through Active Directory and hybrid Exchange deployments, make the combined subscriptions for server and desktop products very attractive.

You do need to pick the right plan though – there's a confusing number of them, all with slightly different features. This means you don't have to pay for services you don't need, but it also makes it hard to point at Office 365 and know exactly what you'll get.

Microsoft has officially released Office 2016 for Windows and it is available for consumer customers (Office 365 Home and Personal) immediately for download. Mac users have already been able to download Office 2016 for a few weeks already.

Office 365 will likely keep its name and could be joined by Windows 365 as Microsoft will apparently add a subscription option to Windows 10, and it has trademarked that name. Amongst the flurry of features added to Office 365 in recent times, the ones worth highlighting are:

Microsoft acquired Sunrise, a popular calendaring app for touch devices, which is likely to be incorporated into Office 365. Calendaring has been one of the areas where Microsoft hasn't devoted as much resources as many would have expected especially with the rise of mobility.

Microsoft also bought Acompli (which it almost immediately turned to Outlook), LiveLoop for to prep ip PowerPoint and 6Wunderkinder for its popular to-do-list application.

The company also announced that it was giving away 100GB of free storage for a year to existing Dropbox users to lure them away from the popular cloud storage provider – which incidentally is a close Microsoft ally.

That bonus is on top of a 100GB giveaway of OneDrive storage for two years if you subscribe to its Bing Rewards scheme. Your files will be read only after the subscription ends unless you buy a top-up and if you want to get a cheap one, Ebay seems to be the place to go with plenty of deals available for Microsoft Office 365 Personal available for less than £40.

Okay, let's move on to the most recent developments over the past couple of months. Microsoft recently announced that it has updated Office 365 for Exchange Online, so that users will no longer have their emails automatically deleted after a period of 30 days. Previously, deleted items were shifted into the Deleted folder before disappearing from there after 30 days, but the new update allows the system admin to change this period to a different length, or simply to set all emails to be kept indefinitely.

Also on the email front, Microsoft has just updated Office 365 to allow users to send email attachments which are far, far bigger than was previously possible. In fact, attachments can now be six times as large, with the new size limit being 150MB (whereas Office 365 users were limited to 25MB before – that said, note that the 25MB limit will remain in place unless the administrator actually changes things).

Video content is an arena Redmond is moving to cover with its subscription Office suite, as well, with the creation of the Office 365 Video portal that allows businesses to distribute videos internally. This is a free additional service which is currently in the process of rolling out globally for Office 365 enterprise users, in order to provide a fully integrated solution for video sharing within an organisation with security in mind. Office 365 Video employs an HTML5 player so it can work across all devices from mobiles to desktop computers, although Microsoft is also producing an app for iPhone users.

Furthermore, Redmond has bolstered Office 365 with the addition of mobile device management (MDM) again free of charge, at least for those on commercial plans. System admins will be able to use these features to manage access to data over a range of devices and platforms, from smartphones upwards and on Windows Phone, Android and iOS.

This will put in place measures such as the detection of jailbroken devices, and will allow for security policies to be set up to ensure that certain business emails or documents can only be accessed on approved devices. A selective wipe feature will strip corporate data off a device running Office 365, without touching any personal data on said piece of hardware.

Another major move on the security front which has only just happened is Microsoft and Samsung's announcement of an agreement, following settling their legal arguments over Android, whereby a version of the Office 365 suite will come to Samsung's Knox. In other words, Excel, Word, PowerPoint, OneNote and OneDrive for Business will be included wrapped up in the Knox container.

Redmond has also just changed things with Office 365 so that documents can now be exported in the Open Document Format (ODF), to bring the suite in line with UK government guidelines on document sharing.


Recent news

The following is a list of updates to the Office 365 suite going back from August to the beginning of 2016:

August 2016

  • Microsoft is going to more tightly integrate Office 365 and Windows 10 by implementing an 'Office Hub'that offers easy access to your documents from within Windows.
  • Office 365 saw the introduction of a Service Assurance Dashboard which provides a range of details on privacy, security and compliance controls, including third-party auditing.
  • Microsoft said that the rollout of the overhaul of, which brings fresh Office 365 features to users of the webmail service, has been further delayed.
  • Office 365 Education introduced a raft of new features including Microsoft Classroom, School Data Sync, Microsoft Forms, and Learning Tools.
  • Microsoft brought some new ink effects to OneNote, and also the ability for the app not just to convert a handwritten equation to text, but also to teach you how to solve it.
  • Two new Visio apps popped up: Visio Online Preview which allows users to view and share Visio diagrams with only a browser, and the Visio for iPad app.
  • Various accessibility updates were applied across Office 365, including tweaks to make Narrator (the screen reader) a better experience in Word, Outlook and SharePoint.

July 2016

  • Microsoft highlighted two major new features coming to Word – Editor and Researcher, which help with proofing/editing, and citing sources respectively.
  • A new service arrived in the form of Microsoft Bookings, which gives Office 365 business users a hub web page that allows customers to schedule appointments.
  • Microsoft announced that Office 365 now has 23.1 million subscribers.
  • The free preview version of Microsoft Stream was launched, a YouTube-style service for businesses which will eventually become the de facto video experience in Office 365.
  • The Secure Productive Enterprise offering was revealed, bundling Office 365, Windows 10 Enterprise (in its new E3/E5 cloud-based form) and Enterprise Mobility + Security suite.
  • Redmond released a free videoconferencing tool for SMBs, noting that Office 365 business subscribers get similar facilities on a much grander scale via Skype for Business.
  • Microsoft revealed that later in 2016, Office 365 users will get a preview of an automatic live translation caption service for Skype Meeting Broadcast supporting 40 languages.

June 2016

  • Microsoft Planner was rolled out to Office 365 users worldwide, an app which lets you tackle project management in a fresh and user-friendly fashion.
  • Microsoft made a number of tweaks to Sway, its 'digital storytelling' app, including upping content limits so you can use more photos, videos and so forth in your Sways.
  • Outlook received some new features to help users better manage their travel plans and track the status of package deliveries.
  • Excel got a new set of Power Query features designed to make working with and getting the most out of your data easier.
  • A new Office 365 admin app was pushed out with a more slickly designed interface that makes important information easy to spot at a glance.
  • A new SharePoint mobile app was also launched for iOS offering quick and easy access to your company's portals, sites and resources when you're on the go.
  • The preview version of GigJam – a collaboration app inbound for Office 365 that allows users to easily share all manner of content – was made available to all comers.
  • Office 365 was struck by a major ransomware attack that exposed some 57% of its 18.2 million subscribers to phishing attempts.

May 2016

  • Office 365 Business was enhanced to allow co-editors to chat in real-time when collaborating on documents stored in OneDrive for Business or SharePoint Online.
  • Accessibility improvements, including a new high contrast theme, were applied to Office 365 to make it easier for the visually impaired to work with the apps.
  • Microsoft tweaked security for Office 365, with Exchange Online Protection getting safety tips that give warnings about suspicious emails.

April 2016

  • Office 365 received a front-end facelift with a new welcome page designed to be more helpful and intuitive.
  • Redmond bolstered the capabilities of Microsoft Graph, meaning that going forward developers can build better and smarter apps powered by data drawn from Office 365.

March 2016

  • A new admin centre arrived on Office 365 boasting powerful search functionality and enabling easy access to in-depth reports.
  • Office 365 Connectors were introduced, allowing apps and services to be hooked up to Office 365 Groups, so notifications from said apps automatically get sent to the Groups shared inbox.
  • Office 365 became the only non-Apple accessory offered to those purchasing iPads online.
  • Google expanded its Identity Platform, which is made up of a number of solutions including Google Sign-In, to cover Office 365.
  • And as March ended, we discovered that according to one study, Office 365 is the king of all business web apps.

February 2016

  • A ton of improvements were applied to Excel including new functions to make building common calculations an easier process, and deeper integration with Power BI.
  • Outlook also got some attention with a new system that lets users easily archive messages, and a new Groups section was added to the ribbon.
  • We saw a leaked pilot web page that indicated Redmond's incoming premium email service, Premium, will be free for Office 365 users.

January 2016

  • Microsoft extended its Office Insider preview program, which allows the curious to test early builds, to include Mac users.
  • Redmond introduced new inking features for the Office for iPad apps, allowing for scribbling on documents with a stylus or your finger.


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