Microsoft Office is a company that has been trying to catch up in recent years to Google, Apple, and other companies that tend to foray into the web conferencing area. When we sat down to review Microsoft’s conferencing platform, we wondered exactly what it was. Essentially, Microsoft Office is fully online, and Skype is now driving the conferencing component of Microsoft Office. Frankly, we wondered why one might pay for a subscription to Skype as part of Microsoft Office. However, there were some things that we did like.
Microsoft 365 rolled out in 2013. It allowed businesses to get Skype credit every month, get access to storage and Office applications in the cloud, and let the business use Microsoft product on up to 5 computers with the business.
- Scheduling meetings
The core functionality of Skype is pretty good. We like Skype because it has been around the longest, and is now the cornerstone of Microsoft's conferencing plan for small businesses. What we really liked about Skype was that it lets you network outside of the Microsoft network to Skype users around the world. Your conference guest might not have Office, but they might have a Skype account. This makes it very easy for them to find you in Skype's directory.
Another thing that we liked about Skype was its reputation. Why the customer service is not always perfect, Skype has a reliable track record. Skype also has a pretty good user interface. It's easy to get the video to open up in a chat, you can add up to 10 people to a conference call. We wondered how many people you could add to a Skype video call on a mobile device.
We think that integrating Skype was one of the smartest things that Microsoft did to expand its foothold in the web conferencing industry. With the clunkiness and limits of Lync, Skype makes it easy for users to interact with one another on short notices.
Microsoft, hands down, gave us one of the best prices in the industry. You get access to Microsoft 365, which includes Office. If you do the screen share thing, you're going to have to use the tools in your open document to do annotations. However, Skype does have an annotation tool called Yugma, if you really feel a need to take notes during the lecture.
Office 365 and Skype have helped give users the benefit of combining the top Office software with one of the most renowned chat and conferencing tools around.
We also liked that the Skype and Microsoft Office integrations give you everything found in other web conferencing platforms:
- Annotations and whiteboards.
- Recording and saving of video for archival later.
- Storage space on your cloud's hard drive.
- A virtual "waiting room" for meeting attendants.
- The ability to screen your entrants and control who talks.
The ability to schedule meetings in Outlook was critical for us. We liked that we could control our entire schedule from one browser and one calendar. Additionally, the meeting scheduler is a really important tool for businesses that have to schedule on the fly.
The other benefit of the business plan with Outlook is that the web conferencing and telephone experiences are really good. Microsoft uses HD.
- Customer service
Skype, overall, is a pretty good platform that Microsoft picked up, but there are some caveats. If you've ever dealt with Skype's customer service, they are pretty much nonexistent. If you lose your password, for example, it can take a long time to resolve the issue.
One of the things about the Office 365/Skype combined experience is that it just seems a little bit weird. At least with Google's platform, you get the same experience all across Google's Hangouts, Drive, and other products when you use Google for Internet telephony. That experience is lost in the Office 365 experience. You don't get the seamless Office from email to conferencing experience.
If you stick with Microsoft 365 as a provider of your conferencing and office solutions, you'd better get a Windows Phone. It's not going to be very easy to use an iPhone to use Word or Excel. Your best bet is to get Office 365 if you are sticking with a Windows phone.
The Bottom Line
We would recommend Office 365 for businesses that want to put their chat, conferencing, and documents all in the cloud. The Skype integration is not always useful and intuitive, but it represents the thought that Microsoft is trying to move into a cloud-based realm that makes it more favorable and feasible.
If you have a bunch of Surface tablets on your team, Microsoft Office 365 could be a great subscription for you and your team. You can also get the Skype business version with Microsoft 365 and not worry about cranking out the big dough for Microsoft.