There's no getting around the importance of Office 365 for day-to-day business.
Or is it Microsoft 365 now?
Wait. What's going on?
The confusion surrounding the recent changes with Office 365 and Microsoft 365 is completely understandable. The shift has a lot of people scratching their heads and wondering, "OK, so what's the difference?"
But organizations that currently depend on Microsoft's Office suite, Outlook, Teams, SharePoint, and other cloud apps and services to keep their remote workers connected and productive don't need to worry.
Because although names might have changed for some of the business and enterprise subscriptions, the license features have pretty much been untouched.
Here's a quick breakdown of what's different and what's stayed the same.
Office 365 vs. Microsoft 365
Why all the sudden confusion between Office 365 and Microsoft 365? Well, it really comes down to rebranding.
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Microsoft announced in late March that Office 365 would officially become Microsoft 365 effective April 21. And as part of that, Office 365 subscriptions for small- and medium-sized businesses, as well as the enterprise-level Office 365 ProPlus, would be renamed.
Those plans are now called:
- Microsoft 365 Business Basic (formerly Office 365 Business Essentials)
- Microsoft 365 Business Standard (formerly Office 365 Business Premium)
- Microsoft 365 Business Premium (formerly Microsoft 365 Business)
- Microsoft 365 Apps for Business or Enterprise (formerly Office 365 Business and Office 365 ProPlus)
But by any other name, those business licenses retain the same features and pricing. And Office 365 Enterprise subscriptions — as well as select Office 365 plans for education, government, and first-line workers — remain unchanged in name and details.
Microsoft 365, also known as M365, is a cloud-based, subscription suite that encompasses Office and other productivity apps, cloud services, device management, and security. It first emerged as an enterprise-level licensing bundle in 2017.
So why make the move to Microsoft 365 at all?
The branding shift is meant to better reflect the innovative cloud-based productivity tools offered in these plans, as well as the new Microsoft 365 Personal and Family subscriptions, according to a blog post authored by Jared Spataro, Corporate Vice President for Microsoft 365. But the name changes should also help better differentiate between subscriptions, too.
And although no major subscription changes were made along with the rebranding, it's almost guaranteed that Microsoft 365 will be introducing added features as newer versions are released. Meanwhile, a later announcements revealed a steady elimination of older Office versions and Office 365 services:
- Microsoft 365 Apps for Business of Enterprise (formerly Office 365 Business and Office 365 ProPlus), Office 2019, and Office 2016 are the only Office versions supported to connect to Office 365/Microsoft 365 services as of Oct. 13, 2020.
- Connecting to Office 365 via Office 2016 for Mac, as well as older versions of Project and Visio are no longer supported as of Oct. 13, 2020. (InfoPath 2013 and SharePoint Designer 2013 have extended support into 2026.)
- TLS 1.0 and 1.1 was retired on Oct. 15, 2020; TLS 1.2 is now required to connect to Office 365 services.
- Skype for Business Online will be retired on July 31, 2021.
- Versions of Office 2019 will be supported until October 2023.
"The Office you know and love will still be there," according to Spataro's March 30 blog post, "but we're excited about the new apps and services we've added to our subscriptions over the last few years and about the new innovations we'll be adding in the coming months."
Comparing Business and Enterprise Plans
Name changes aside, the current business licenses Microsoft 365 has to offer should look fairly familiar.
For business plans — which support up to 300 users — web and mobile Office apps as well as cloud file storage come standard. Most of the subscriptions also include Teams, Outlook, Exchange, and SharePoint.
But some of the key differences among the business licenses lie desktop versions of Office apps, as well as advanced security and device management offered by the Premium plan, which includes Intune and Azure Information Protection.
Here's a quick look at the main features of the newly renamed business subscriptions, directly from Microsoft:
Business Basic (FKA* O365 Business Essentials)
|Microsoft 365 Business Standard (FKA O365 Business Premium)||Microsoft Business Premium (FKA M365 Business)||Microsoft 365 Apps for business (FKA O365 Business)|
|Web and mobile versions of Office apps||X||X||X||X|
|Email and calendar||X||X||X|
|Teamwork and communication||X||X||X|
|File storage and sharing||X||X||X||X|
|Security and compliance||X||X||X||X (partially)|
|Support and deployment||X||X||X||X|
|Tools to build and manage your business||
|Desktop versions of Office apps for PC and Mac||X||X||X|
|Advanced threat protection||X|
|PC and mobile device management||X|
|Price (per user per month)||$5||$12.50||$20||$8.25|
*FKA = formerly known as
Enterprise licenses — available for an unlimited number of users — offer a broader variety of apps, cloud services, and device and security management.
On the lighter end of the subscription spectrum are Office 365 E1, E3, and E5, as well as the newly renamed Microsoft 365 Apps for enterprise (formerly Office 365 ProPlus), all of which have different mixes of Office and productivity apps, device management, and even analytics. The more advanced protection, security, and compliance features, though, can be found with the Microsoft 365 E3 and E5 plans, which also include the Windows OS.
Here's Microsoft's general overview of what the enterprise licenses include:
Microsoft 365 Apps for enterprise (FKA O365 ProPlus)
|Office 365 E1||Office 365 E3||Office 365
|Microsoft 365 E3||Microsoft 365 E5|
|Office apps (PowerPoint, Word, Excell, OneNote, Access (PC only))||X||X (partially, web apps)||X||X||X||X|
|Email and calendar (Outlook, Exchange, Bookings)||X (partially)||X||X||X||X||X|
|Meetings and voice (Teams)||X (partially)||X (partially)||X (partially)||X||X (partially)||X|
|Social and intranet (SharePoint, Yammer)||X||X||X||X||X|
|Files and content (OneDrive, Stream, Sway)||X (partially)||X||X||X||X||X|
|Task management (Power Apps, Power Automate, Planner, To Do)||X (partially)||X||X||X||X||X|
|Advanced analytics (MyAnalytics, Power BI Pro)||X (partially)||X (partially)||X||X (partially)||X|
|Device and app management||X||X (partially)||X||X||X||X|
|Identity and access management||X||X||X||X||X (partially)||X|
|Threat protection||X||X (partially)||X|
|Information protection||X (partially)||X||X (partially)||X|
|Advanced compliance||X (partially)||X||X|
|Price (per user per month)||$12||$8||$20||$35||$32||$57|
Of course there are even more Microsoft 365 subscriptions — including personal/family, first-line workforce, education, and government plans — not covered in this post. But in terms of licenses that can fulfill the needs of large-scale organizations, these business and enterprise plans are a great place to start.
It's also worth taking a closer look at two popular enterprise plans, Office 365 E3 and Microsoft 365 E3, that are frequently compared in terms of features and value.
Differences Between Office 365 E3 and Microsoft 365 E3
For organizations weighing the benefits and costs of Microsoft's enterprise licenses, two plans in particular often stand out: Office 365 E3 and Microsoft 365 E3.
At first glance, the two subscriptions have a lot in common. Both include Office suite apps (desktop, mobile, web), Outlook, Exchange, Teams, SharePoint, OneDrive, and more productivity apps. They also include some of the same services, such as Microsoft 365 admin center, Graph API, Mobile Device Management for Office 365, shared computer activation, on-premises Active Directory sync for single sign-on, and information protection.
But Microsoft 365 E3 has a bit more to offer, including device management options such as Microsoft Intune, Windows Autopilot, analytics, and a System Center Configuration Manager. It also features Windows Hello, Windows Credential Guard, DirectAccess, Azure Active Directory Premium, advanced threat and information protection measures, Microsoft Secure Score, and Microsoft Security and Compliance Center.
Microsoft 365 E3 also includes the Windows 10 Enterprise OS, which might explain why the plan is $12/user/month higher than Office 365 E3.
So which subscription offers the best value? Well, that's tough to say.
When it comes to choosing the best license, or even combination of licenses, organizations need to start by looking at their own users.
How to Choose the Right Licenses for Your Users
With so many different license tiers to pick from, finding the right fit can be a challenge.
Because while it's important for organizations to provide all the apps and services employees need to stay productive, it's just as important to avoid costly overprovisioning and unused software.
That's why understanding end-user needs is crucial. In order to strategically provision licenses and prevent wasted resources, IT teams need clear, detailed usage data.
With a digital experience monitoring solution, such as SysTrack, organizations can gain better visibility of their digital environments and end-user behavior by gathering data metrics — such as application usage and performance, storage needs, license info, etc. — directly from the endpoint.
IT teams can then use that information to start considering some critical questions:
- Where are licenses needed? Are there unused licenses that can be re-provisioned or removed?
- What does the usage data show over a 30-, 60-, or 90-day period?
- Are there edge cases where users can benefit from an upgrade? Or are there users who can be moved to a less expensive license without impact?
Backed by data-driven insights, organizations can rationalize necessary applications and services, and map out a more cost-efficient licensing plan.
Office 365 Planning with SysTrack
Troubleshooting for Office 365 and Microsoft 365
Choosing the best licenses for end users isn't the end of the process. Not by a long shot.
There's still the matter of keeping everything running smoothly and maintaining a great digital employee experience.
Although the SaaS model of Office 365 and Microsoft 365 make them ideal for many workspaces, their third-party infrastructure makes it tricky for IT admins to troubleshoot. And tools such as Microsoft Support and Discovery Assistant and the Admin Center's Microsoft 365 service health page offer only basic help with mainly external factors.
For deep root cause analysis and more effective troubleshooting — especially with Office 365 Enterprise licenses — an internal monitoring solution such as SysTrack is invaluable for providing visibility into other areas, including:
- Operating system
- Other apps
Using SysTrack's comprehensive analytics in combination with its Office 365 Performance Monitoring Kit, which includes specially designed dashboards and reports, also gives IT teams greater insights into license usage and performance across their environment.
In addition to summary information about usage and performance, the kit also helps IT teams track underused or unused licenses; location-based details; and performance and consumption info for specific users.
So when issues do arise, IT has the means to quickly identify, resolve, and even prevent problems before they impact end-user experience and productivity.
Lindsey Poisson is a technical journalist at Lakeside Software focused on the latest news, trends, and innovations in the IT industry and digital experience management market. Previously an award-winning newspaper reporter, she now delves into topics surrounding remote work, digital employee experience, proactive IT support, and the future of work. She also currently lives, works, and adventures around Ann Arbor, Michigan.