Microsoft 365 First Steps: Understanding the Value

Posted on September 8, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft 365 with 24 Comments

Note: This would normally be a Premium post, but thanks to Microsoft, we are able to offer it to all readers without any roadblocks. –Paul

Every Thursday, our team meets—virtually, of course, and using Microsoft Teams—to discuss Thurrott.com. There are other meetings throughout the week, but this is the only one I regularly attend, and as you might imagine it’s the one that matters most to me because this site is pretty much my day-to-day working life.

These meetings aren’t all work, of course: We also spend time catching up with each other, chit-chatting, ribbing the new guy (sorry, Nick), and sharing some laughs. And that’s become all the more important in 2020 because we’re all forced to work remotely now. These meetings are all we have.

Granted, our small business has always been remote for the most part, with no home office and most working from home or from a WeWork facility in New York City. But we typically schedule in-person get-togethers throughout the year because of the unique benefits of being in the same room together. So it’s been a while, and in the past six months of lockdown, we would normally have all gotten together several times already.

I mention all this because this post was inspired by a discussion we had during the winddown of a recent meeting. It was about Microsoft 365, which we’ve migrated to, and Google G Suite, of which we still maintain some legacy vestiges from the early days of the company. Some of the younger folk were surprised we didn’t just use Google. It would be less expensive, after all. By comparison, Microsoft 365 is very expensive, we were told.

Hm.

For the smallest businesses, Google offers two relevant G Suite offerings: G Suite Basic, which is $6 per user per month, and G Suite Business, which is $12 per user per month. Both provide Gmail Business email addresses with a custom domain, which I think of as the bare minimum for a business account, shared calendars, access to the web- (and mobile-) based Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides applications, video chat, voice conferencing, and chat, and the like. But the Basic tier provides just 30 GB of cloud storage. To get 1 TB of cloud storage—for businesses with fewer than 5 employees, the storage is unlimited over 5 employees—you need the Business tier, which is twice as expensive.

Meanwhile, Microsoft 365 likewise has two offerings of interest to small businesses, and with all the same basic features: Microsoft 365 Business Basic, which is $5 per user per month, and Microsoft 365 Business Standard, which is $12.50 per user per month. But aside from being $1 less expensive per user per month than the ostensibly similar G Suite offering, Microsoft 365 Basic provides a full 1 TB of cloud storage to each user in addition to the web- and mobile versions of Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, plus online meetings, video calls, and chats via Microsoft Teams, and other perks. So it’s not just less expensive, it’s also clearly superior.

Step up to Microsoft 365 Business Standard, however, and things really start to get interesting: This tier also provides the ability for each user to install the full desktop versions of Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote on up to 5 Windows PCs and/or Macs (plus Access and Publisher on the PC only). And it comes with access to additional Microsoft 365 web apps like Bookings and MileIQ. Yes, it’s 50 cents more expensive per user per month than G Suite Business, but I’ll argue that these offerings aren’t even really comparable. Google has nothing that’s truly like Microsoft Teams, and it certainly doesn’t have desktop applications.

Microsoft 365 also benefits from another thing Google can’t provide: Trust. Unlike Google, which is under antitrust scrutiny throughout the United States and Europe and is perhaps best well-known for the privacy-invasive user tracking that powers its advertising business, Microsoft is one of the most trusted companies in the world. And for good reason: Microsoft is making its own transition to the cloud along with its customers, and it is a trusted partner thanks to decades of experience.

Value is, of course, an interesting thing and we all perceive the value that we get from what we pay for differently. And when you hear $5 per user per month or $12.50 per user per month, or whatever, you may get caught up in a debate over whether these prices are fair, or about the many things we now seem to pay for on an ongoing basis with no end in sight. We certainly do suffer from subscription fatigue, and it’s understandable why one might want to reevaluate their spending, especially during a pandemic.

But as I explained to my younger coworkers, I go to the gym six days a week and after every other visit, I go to a Dunkin’ Donuts on the way home, where I buy a large decaf iced latte with skim milk and a breadless breakfast sandwich for myself and a medium latte for my wife. The cost is about $12 minus the tip, and if you do the math, I’m spending enough at Dunkin’ Donuts each month to float a business with about 12 employees, each with a Microsoft 365 Business Standard account. And I don’t even notice this spending, for the most part.

I enjoy this kind of mental exercise because it forces me to think about things in a different way. (And yes, maybe I could go to Dunkin’ Donuts even less frequently, but this is half the number of times I went before the pandemic. So this is me cutting back. Baby steps, folks.)

But here’s yet another way to look at these costs: Sure, both of these Microsoft 365 tiers come with all the basics one would expect, and each lines up well against the corresponding Google choices. But Microsoft 365 also provides a wellspring of other benefits that aren’t easily expressed in a quick list of features. And that’s what I’m hoping to discuss in a series of articles this month in which I’ll describe some of the lesser-known features and benefit that we all get in Microsoft 365 and how we can all derive even more value from something we’re already paying for.

And if you’re not yet using a commercial version of Microsoft 365, please try a free month of Microsoft 365 Business Standard, which includes access to the Microsoft 365 desktop, mobile, and web apps, and 1 TB of cloud storage per user, and can be accessed by up to 25 users during the trial.

More soon.

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