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A Complete Guide to Microsoft 365

Microsoft 365, formerly Office 365, is a Microsoft subscription service that complements and includes the Microsoft Office product line.

On July 10, 2017, Microsoft introduced the brand as a superset of Office 365 with Windows 10 Enterprise licenses and other cloud-based security and device management products.

Office 365 is now Microsoft 365

The consumer and small business plans of Office 365 were renamed Microsoft 365 on April 21, 2020, to emphasize their current inclusion of products and services beyond the core Microsoft Office software family (including cloud-based productivity tools and artificial intelligence features).

On the same day, Microsoft renamed most products formerly known as Office 365 to Microsoft 365.

Microsoft 365 includes subscription plans that allow users to use the Microsoft Office software suite for the duration of their subscription and cloud-based software-as-a-service (saas) products for business environments such as hosted Exchange Server, Skype for Business Server, and SharePoint.

In contrast to traditional licenses for these programs, which require purchasing a new subscription license for new versions, all Microsoft 365 plans include free automatic updates to their respective software.

You can also sign up for a 30-day free trial and pay after your 1-month free trial period.

Microsoft still uses Office 365 branding for subscription plans for specific enterprise markets.

RELATED: Microsoft Office Free Trial

History of Office 365 and Microsoft 365

Office 365 History

First Office 365 logo
First Office 365 logo (2010–2013)

Microsoft first announced Office 365 in October 2010, starting with a private beta with various organizations, progressing to a public beta in April 2011, and finally reaching general availability on June 28, 2011, with a launch aimed primarily at corporate users, framing Office 365 as a successor to Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS).

In response to growing competition from Google’s similar service Google Apps, Microsoft created the Office 365 platform to “bring together” its existing online services (such as the Business Productivity Online Suite) into “an always-up-to-date cloud service” that included Exchange Server (for e-mail), SharePoint (for internal social networking, collaboration, and a public web site), and Lync (now Skype for Business) (for communication, VoIP, and conferencing).

Microsoft initially launched plans for small businesses and enterprises; the small business plan included Exchange e-mail, SharePoint Online, Lync Online, SharePoint web hosting, and Office Web Apps.

In contrast, the enterprise plan had per-user licenses for the Office 2010 Professional Plus software and 24/7 phone support.

Business Productivity Online Suite customers were given a year after the service’s official launch to migrate from BPOS to the Office 365 platform.

On February 27, 2013, with the release of Office 2013, an updated version of the Office 365 platform was launched, expanding Office 365 to include new plans aimed at different types of businesses, as well as new plans aimed at general consumers, including benefits tailored toward Microsoft consumer services such as OneDrive (whose integration with Office was a significant feature of the 2013 suite).

Microsoft upgraded the server components to 2013 versions. Microsoft expanded the Office 365 service with new plans such as Small Business Premium, Midsize Premium, and Pro Plus.

A new Office 365 Home Premium plan for home users includes access to the Office 2013 suite for up to five computers, expanded OneDrive storage, and 60 minutes of Skype calls per month.

The plan is available to the general public, particularly those who want to install Office on multiple computers. Microsoft introduced a University plan aimed at post-secondary students.

Microsoft began to offer prepaid Office 365 subscriptions through retail outlets alongside the standard, non-subscription-based editions of Office 2013, which, in comparison, are only licensed for use on one computer, with these new offerings.

Second Office 365 logo
Second update Office 365 logo (2013–2019)

On March 19, 2013, Microsoft detailed its plans to integrate Office 365 with the enterprise social networking platform Yammer (which it had acquired in 2012), including the ability to use a single sign-on between the two services, shared feeds, and document aggregation, as well as the ability to completely replace the SharePoint news feed and social functionality with Yammer.

In June 2013, Microsoft introduced the ability to provide a link to a Yammer network from an Office 365 portal, with more integration (such as a Yammer app for SharePoint and single sign-on) to follow in July 2013.

Microsoft unveiled Power BI on July 8, 2013, a suite of business intelligence and self-service data mining tools for Office 365 later in the year.

Power BI is primarily integrated into Excel, allowing users to use the Power Query tool to create spreadsheets and graphs using public and private data and geovisualize Bing Maps data using the Power Map tool (previously available as a beta plug-in known as GeoFlow).

Users will also be able to access and publish reports and query data using natural language.

Microsoft also offered a free one-year Xbox Live Gold subscription with the purchase of an Office 365 Home Premium or University subscription until September 28, 2013, as a limited-time offer for specific markets (but notably excluding the United States).

Microsoft renamed the “Home Premium” plan to “Home” on April 15, 2014, and added a new “Personal” subscription plan for single users.

The amount of OneDrive storage available to Office 365 subscribers increased from 20 GB to 1 terabyte in June 2014.

Microsoft announced “unlimited” OneDrive storage for Office 365 subscribers on October 27, 2014. However, due to abuse and a general reduction in Microsoft’s storage options, the 1 TB limit was reinstated in November 2015.

Microsoft released Planner to the public in June 2016 and regards it as a competitor to Trello and other cloud-based agile team collaboration services.

Microsoft announced in April 2017 that when mainstream support for Office 2016 ends on October 13, 2020, access to OneDrive for Business and Office 365-hosted servers for Skype for Business will be unavailable to those who do not have Office 365 ProPlus or Office perpetual in mainstream support.

Microsoft announced in July 2019 that the hosted Skype for Business Online service would be phased out on July 31, 2021, and redirect users to the Microsoft Teams collaboration platform in its place.

Skype for Business Online is no longer available to new subscribers as of September 2019.

Microsoft 365 History

Current M365 logo
Current Microsoft 365 logo (since 2019)

For businesses

The “Microsoft 365” brand was first introduced in July 2017 at Microsoft Inspire as an enterprise subscription product, succeeding the “Secure Productive Enterprise” services released in 2016, and combining Windows 10 Enterprise with Office 365 Business Premium, and the Enterprise Mobility + Security suite including Advanced Threat Analytics, Azure Active Directory, Azure Information Protection, Cloud App Security, and Windows Intune.

Consumer launch

Microsoft announced on March 30, 2020, that the consumer plans of Office 365 are going to be rebranded as “Microsoft 365” (a brand also used by Microsoft for an enterprise subscription bundle of Windows, Office 365, and security services) on April 21, 2020, succeeding existing consumer Office 365 plans.

It is a repackaging of existing Office 365 products and benefits geared toward “life,” “productivity,” and “families.” It includes the Microsoft Office suite, 1 TB of additional OneDrive storage, access to OneDrive Personal Vault, and 60 minutes of Skype calls per month.

Microsoft will also include access to its collaboration platform Teams (which will consist of additional features tailored to family use) and a premium tier of Microsoft Family Safety under the brand.

Microsoft also announced plans to offer trial offers of third-party services to Microsoft 365 subscribers in collaboration with companies such as Adobe (Creative Cloud Photography), Blinkist, CreativeLive, Experian, and Headspace.

Two Microsoft 365 subscription plans replaced the pre-existing Office 365 Personal and Home subscriptions (the latter renamed “Family”), with no price changes.

Microsoft stated that “over the last several years, our cloud productivity offering has grown far beyond what people traditionally think of as ‘Office,'” citing Forms, Planner, Stream, and Teams as examples.

Microsoft 365 was also renamed Office 365 for small and medium-sized businesses, with Office 365 Business and ProPlus becoming “Microsoft 365 Apps for Business” and “Microsoft 365 Apps for Enterprise,” Office 365 Business Essentials becoming “Microsoft 365 Business Basic,” Office 365 Business Premium becoming “Microsoft 365 Business Standard” (with the existing Microsoft 365 Business product becoming “Microsoft 365 Business Premium”).

Microsoft is still using the Office 365 brand for the company’s enterprise, education, healthcare, and government plans.

Microsoft 365 is distributed through Microsoft’s cloud services reseller network.

RELATED: How to Install Microsoft 365 on Your PC

Microsoft 365 Plans

Microsoft 365

Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) is available in various subscription plans for different needs and market segments, each with unique features and pricing. These are some examples:

Consumer Plans

Both plans are aimed at mainstream consumers and include access to Microsoft Office applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, Access, and Microsoft Outlook) for home/non-commercial use on one computer (Windows, macOS, and mobile devices), as well as access to additional online-based services and premium creative content, 1 TB of OneDrive storage with Advanced Security, 60 minutes of Skype international calls per month (subject to area), and partner offers.

  • Microsoft 365 Family (formerly Office 365 Home): Intended for mainstream consumers and families; similar to Personal, but for use on up to five devices per person by up to six users.
  • Microsoft 365 Personal (formerly Office 365 Personal): Provides access to Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, and Access for personal/non-commercial use on up to five computers, phones, or tablets (PC, Mac, Android, iOS or Windows RT). In addition, you’ll get 1 TB of extra OneDrive storage and 60 minutes of international Skype calls per month (subject to area). Office 365 University, a version of Personal purchased on a discounted four-year plan that allows use on two devices by one user, was previously available to those in post-secondary institutions. Microsoft has also made Office 365 subscriptions available to students at universities that have licensed Office software for their faculty.

RELATED: How to Add Family Members to Your Microsoft 365 Family Plan

Small Business Plans

  • Microsoft 365 Apps for Business (formerly Office 365 Business): Provides Office applications for Windows, Mac, and mobile platforms, supporting up to five computers, tablets, and smartphones per user.
  • Microsoft 365 Business Basic (previously known as Office 365 Business Essentials) is designed for small and medium-sized businesses. It includes Office 365 web apps such as Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, OneNote, Exchange, Microsoft Teams, SharePoint, and OneDrive with a storage capacity of 1 TB.
  • Microsoft 365 Business Standard (previously Office 365 Business Premium) combines Microsoft 365 Business Basic and Microsoft 365 Apps for Business.
  • Microsoft 365 Business Premium (formerly Microsoft 365 Business) is the best option for companies with 300 employees. It includes Microsoft 365 Business Standard, Windows 10 Business, Azure Virtual Desktop, Azure AD P1, Microsoft Intune, and Microsoft Defender for Office 365.

Enterprise Plans

  • Microsoft 365 Apps for Enterprise (formerly Office 365 ProPlus), like Microsoft 365 Apps for Business, can be installed in RDS Server for unlimited users.
  • Office 365 Enterprise: Designed for corporate settings—access to all Office applications, hosted services, business-specific features, and regulatory compliance support. Office 365 Enterprise is available in E1, E3, and E5 editions and A1, A3, and A5 for education.
  • Microsoft 365 Enterprise is a package that includes Office 365 Enterprise, Windows 10 Enterprise, and Enterprise Mobility + Security. Microsoft 365 Enterprise is available in E3, E5, and A3, A5 editions for education.

Other Plans

Office 365 operated by 21Vianet: Microsoft has authorized 21Vianet to provide Office 365 services to its customers in China. In China, 21Vianet operates Office 365 rather than Microsoft. The service differs from other services in terms of features.

RELATEDHow to Cancel Microsoft 365


So there you have it, an in-depth look at Microsoft 365. This digital ecosystem is, in our opinion, the best office productivity software money can buy, and we hope you agree.

Microsoft 365 combines the power of cloud technology in OneDrive with feature-rich document creation and productivity apps such as Word, OneNote, PowerPoint, and Excel.

Microsoft Teams is an all-in-one digital communications platform that ensures your employees work as efficiently as possible.

We’ve also discussed the various subscription options available to businesses. There is a plan for every organization, whether a small team of five people, a multi-location group of 50 people, or a large enterprise with hundreds or even thousands of employees.

What is the difference between Office 365 and Microsoft 365?

Office 365 is a cloud-based productivity suite of applications that includes Outlook, Word, PowerPoint, and others. Microsoft 365 is a service bundle that includes Office 365 and several other services, including Windows 10 Enterprise.