Excerpt from our Office 365 Education supplement developed in association with PC Pro Magazine.

Office 365 Education gives teachers and students everything they need to communicate and collaborate, and in doing so aid learning. Over these two pages, we aim to answer all the questions anyone involved in school IT needs to know – from what’s included to how it’s deployed and supported.

Question: What is Office 365 Education?

Answer: Office 365 encompasses many things, from a bundled version of Microsoft Office software (with certain plans) to email, document sharing and online video conferencing. The key idea is that you pay a subscription each month or year, and that entitles you to the various services in each plan. Office 365 Education is a special version targeted specifically at educational institutions, including schools. It integrates Exchange-based email, scheduling and contacts management, SharePoint for intranet-based collaboration, and instant messaging and voice and video conferencing and chat using Microsoft Lync. It also provides access to Microsoft’s Office Web Apps; streamlined online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote that can be used to view, create and edit documents. Using SharePoint, you can use Office 365 to create a full learning environment where you can share information, manage projects and publish policies, schemes of work and announcements.

Question: What can I get for free?

Answer: All of the above, with 99.9% availability, 24/7 phone support, 25GB of SkyDrive Pro storage, 50GB of email storage space per user, configurable anti-spam and anti-malware protection, plus free Active Directory synchronisation for those schools with an existing Windows Server network.    

Question: Does it include Office 2013 for desktops?

Answer: Not on the free plan, but upgrade from the free Office 365 A2 plan to the Office 365 A3 plan and you get up to five installations of Office 2013 for Windows per user, or Office 2011 for Mac. Other bonus features include unlimited email storage and archiving, plus eDiscovery tools for SharePoint sites and Exchange mailboxes that tick your school’s compliance boxes. It’s £1.90 per student or £3.40 per staff member per month.

Question: How does Office 365 Education differ from the old Live@edu service?

Answer: It basically offers more to schools, including more email capacity per user, with 50GB rather than 10GB, the new Office Web Apps, stronger integration with Office 2010 and Office 2013, plus Enterprise-grade intranet and communications with SharePoint Online and Lync Online.

Question: How complicated is it to use?

Answer: Staff and students will find Office 365 Education very familiar. It works with existing Office 2010 and even Office 2007 applications, and the web-based Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote apps use  the same user-interface as their Office 2013 equivalents, which is itself a natural development from Office 2010. Moving to Office 365 is a shift, but hardly  a dramatic one. Office 365 isn’t much more difficult  to manage, either. Everything from provisioning new accounts to managing school intranet and internet sites can be done using a simple, browser-based control panel, although there’s nothing to stop techies using PowerShell commands. It’s a whole lot easier than maintaining your own servers. And if you don’t want to handle setup yourself, you can work with a Microsoft partner and let them do all the behind-the-scenes work.

Question: How does it differ from other cloud-based services?

Answer: Office 365 Education is targeted at the needs of education. Emails and documents aren’t scanned or indexed to provide hooks for advertising; Microsoft takes privacy and security seriously. What’s more, Office 365 Education works with familiar Office and Windows tools and services, and across a wide range of PCs, laptops and mobile devices. It’s designed to get the latest emails, the most recent documents and the right information to every user, no matter what device they’re working with.

Question: Will it work with tablets and smartphone?

Answer: Obviously Office 365 Education works brilliantly with Windows Phone smartphones and Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets, including Microsoft Surface. You can draft a document on your tablet and then polish it up on your laptop, and work with other staff or students across the full range of Windows devices. However, Office 365 Education is also happy to work with Android and iOS tablets and smartphones. You can access your email and check  your schedule on an iPhone or  view documents using your Android tablet’s web browser. There are  OneNote apps available for iOS and Android, and users of the Office  365  A3 and A4 plans can use the Office Mobile for Office 365 apps for iOS and Android to create and edit documents. You aren’t limited to Windows devices by any means.

Question: Is Office 365 Education safe, private and secure?

Answer: Microsoft has signed up to the EU Safe Harbour agreement, meaning the service complies with EU regulations on where your students’ personal data can be stored. You can easily find out where the datacentres  your school uses are located, and get detailed information on who can access your data and when. All the data is held in 24-hour monitored data centres, and it’s encrypted both at rest on Microsoft’s servers and in-transit over the internet. Your data would arguably be less secure if held within your school. What about reliability and support? Office 365 has a 99.9% uptime guarantee, and every document, intranet site and email is being continuously backed-up, with full disaster recovery just part of the service. Microsoft provides 24/7 phone support for all IT issues, and you can make service requests through the admin portal for any less urgent requirements.

Question: We already have Office  – do we need to upgrade?

Answer: Office 365 doesn’t require Office to run, but if you have Office already then it should work with your existing applications. It works with Office 2007 (with some limitations), Office 2010 and Office 2013, not to mention Office 2011 for Mac.

Question: Will our school have to keep buying new versions?

Answer: No. One of the joys of Office 365 is that updates are included in the subscription. New and enhanced apps, features and services should be rolled out to every user as they appear.

Question: Does Office 365 Education replace the traditional desktop version of Office?

Answer: Office 365’s Office Web Apps provides many students and some staff members with everything they need to work. However, when you  need to handle serious quantities of  email or create really slick, professional-looking documents and presentations, nothing works better than full-blown Office. That’s why Office 2013 Pro Plus comes included with the paid-for plans.

Question: If I want to try Office 365 Education, do I have to commit to it?

Answer: Office 365 Education is free in the  basic A2 plan, but if you don’t want to commit you can try the service with a free trial. This gives you an idea of how administration and provisioning work before you set up a full  system, not to mention a good grounding in how it looks and feels from staff and students’ perspectives. For  simplicity, the trial needs to run on a trial  domain.

Question: Can we still use our school’s existing domain name?

Answer: Once you sign up, definitely. Office 365 Education will work happily with an existing domain, allowing you to move to the new email, scheduling and SharePoint Online services while retaining your school’s existing online identity.

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Our full Office 365 Education supplement can be viewed/downloaded in full via our SlideShare account: