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Office 365 in Education, and Recent Changes

Microsoft have been very generous to educational customers looking to subscribe to their Office 365 services. They have been less generous however when it comes to explaining exactly what services are on offer, and of informing customers when changes to these offerings occur. There is a lot of information ‘out there’ but in our experience this seems to have caused more confusion than clarity.

So what is on offer, who qualifies and how do eligible customers access these service offerings?

To begin, a short history of the Office 365 family and the different suites available to education. The majority of my discussions around Office 365 start by explaining that Office 365 is a family of products, rather than the ‘latest version of Office’. A lot of customers (educational and otherwise) believe that ‘Office 365’ was the natural successor to the Office 2013 suites (Office Standard and Pro Plus). This, as we know, is not the full story: ‘Office 365’ is essentially a suite of products, largely cloud based, which chiefly consists of Exchange, Skype for Business, SharePoint and Office 365 Pro Plus. As cloud based services Microsoft provision and manage Exchange, SharePoint, Skype and Office 365 Pro Plus from their datacentre infrastructure (cloud I/F). Office 365 Pro Plus here is what people typically associate with ‘Office 365’, that is the familiar applications such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint. Rather than these products being the ‘latest version’, they represent a new licensing model, namely a change to ‘per user/per year’. So if you want to use Office Pro Plus 2016 you can still purchase it outright as a perpetual license if you please, or via a 365 per user/per year subscription. In essence the product’s functionality is the same, however the move to ‘per user’ and a Microsoft managed update cycle bring some major benefits and challenges.

The Education offerings and recent changes

Microsoft have for some time made a suite of the 365 products available to education for free. Exchange, Skype for Business and SharePoint were originally made available to education for free as part of the O365 Education A2 Plan. This plan lacked some ‘enterprise’ features available in the higher plans but was intended to bridge the gap for customers who up to this point largely viewed Enterprise class email as beyond the means of school IT budgets. The paid for O365 Education A3 Plan enabled access to all enterprise features, as well as the Office 365 Pro Plus per user subscription. There was some reshuffling of the suites in early 2015, when A2 became E1 and A3 became E3. For all intents and purposes, the offerings remained the same – E1 gave you hosted Exchange, SfB and SharePoint, while E3 added the Office 365 Pro Plus product etc. Microsoft announced some significant changes to the line-up at their worldwide partner conference in Orlando in July 2015, where they announced and have been rolling out a rebranded ‘Office 365 Education’ which replaces the E1 offering. Just another name change, right? Well, no, not in this case. The launch of Office 365 Education (still free!) saw Microsoft opening up ‘enterprise’ features of Exchange, SfB and SharePoint under this free subscription offering. For a comprehensive breakdown of what is offered, see the following live pivot.

What about the Office suite of products?

Well, Office 365 Pro Plus remains a paid for product – unless your organisation has a qualifying annualised agreement in place. What does this mean? Well a typical scenario would look like this – a school licenses their on premise desktops and laptops etc. via the Open Value Subscription Education Solution Agreement (OVS ES). This allows schools to pay an annual fee based on staff count, which covers them to deploy their chosen software site-wide on all school owned computers and laptops. If that set of software includes Office, the school typically qualifies for free Office 365 Pro Plus for students and staff.

Finally, a word on Office 365 Education Plus

This suite was rolled out directly to qualifying customers’ tenants by Microsoft. It combines the feature set of Office 365 Education and Office 365 Pro Plus. This is important as it halves the work for both the customer and partner when it comes to assigning seats and aligning renewal cycles. Furthermore, unlike the Office 365 Pro Plus subscription, the subscription is auto-renewing. Customers already using O365 Education and Office Pro Plus should simply assign these licenses instead.

Feel free to drop me a line…

Clear? Well, hopefully you’re a bit clearer on the Office 365 offerings in education now, but feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions.

For more information on Office 365 in Education please contact
phone 021 4515590


Seán Deasy


After three years with an iPhone and two weeks with my Windows Phone I think can say that I’m in a reasonable position to compare.


iPhone is—to my taste—far better looking. Compact, sleek, with screen icons it would be no exaggeration to say are radiant. The Lumia (in spite of its name) is dull by comparison. Big and, for some reason, droppable, with the flat Windows Phone tiles that are oh so drab compared to the beautifully etched iPhone skeuomorphs. You can spice them up, re-size and customize them but the start screen is still a long way from the iPhone’s crisp and shimmering surface.

In use

Although much bigger than the iPhone, and cumbersome to handle with it, the Lumia offers some compensations for its large size: web pages are more usable than on the iPhone as there’s more screen available. Locating the back button (not the Web back button) and the Search button outside the screen area makes better use of the screen itself though it does cause inadvertent “backing up”. The side mounted home button, which it’s easy to confuse with the camera or even the volume button, is clunky by comparison with the iPhone Home button but again it makes more screen space available. That said, there’s a screen double tap Home button replacement but I don’t always find it to work, while the persistent time display which stays awake even when the phone’s asleep is a welcome improvement over the iPhone, which requires a Home key press followed by a swipe. This is set by default to time out after 15 minutes but can be configured for always on visibility via the Glance control, albeit at a cost to battery life.

Web Browsing

The Nokia Lumia allows me to easily browse Microsoft secure sites for the first time. The iPhone is well known not to support Flash, but lack of support for Silverlight does not make news, even though it’s a regular pain for Microsoft partners who need to use Microsoft secure sites like VLSC, MPN & PSX.

App Support

The relatively poor App support for Windows Phone as against iPhone and Android is, I suspect, more important to press reviewers and pundits ticking boxes than it is to users who are looking for a good range of functional accessories. Standard Apps that felt like they were exclusive to iPhone users (Shazam & Viber for example) are easy to find. So far I haven’t found anything indispensable on the iPhone that I wasn’t able to draw down from the Nokia Store. Some pleasant surprises: The Amazon Kindle App: who needs a Kindle when you have such a serviceable pocket sized reader as the Lumia? So far I’ve only downloaded free books just to test readability and usability but I’m impressed with my first: Victory, by Joseph Conrad. A heavyweight literary tome to some, this was such a delight to me when I first read it in the London Tube about 30 years ago that I thought it was the ideal novel to test on the mini Kindle that is the Lumia. I’m hooked all over again (I’d recommend this book to anyone who wants to get lost while travelling.) Photosynth works very nicely with the excellent Lumia camera (with its multiple software lenses) and may just convince me to leave my full-size Olympus at home for good.

Office Integration

And of course there’s the full Office 365 integration. The iPhone did a very good job with Exchange ActiveSync (I wouldn’t have bought one without it) but full integration with O365 and SkyDrive is a definite plus for Windows & PC users. The interface is fluent, fast and predictable, offering the continuity between devices that only Apple could offer 3-5 years ago. iTunes? Never heard of it.

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