Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium (which begins at $12.50 per user per month, when paid annually for the version we tested) is Microsoft’s one-stop-shop for not just email hosting, but much more, including collaboration, productivity, and more. By offering cutting edge hosted email in conjunction with not only its venerable suite of Office productivity tools, but also advanced back-office offerings, like SharePoint Online, Microsoft has created a tough-to-beat solution that can satisfy the needs of almost any business. Combined it makes for a winning solution, and one well worth our Editors’ Choice designation.
It is easy to get started using Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium, though, surprisingly, it was not quite as easy to do so with web hosting provider GoDaddy Web Hosting, which actually resells Microsoft Office 365. All it takes to get started with Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium is to provide some basic information about your company, a name, and a phone number. After verifying that you aren’t a robot, you’ll have a new Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium account with a temporary subdomain of onmicrosoft.com. To make it work with your own domain, you’ll need to navigate to the administrator portal to add your custom domain. Navigation is made easy by way of a simple search box that lets you type in what you want to do, though Microsoft could do a little better at explaining this to neophytes.
To verify the added domain, Microsoft will send an automated email to the contact information specified on the domain. As an alternative, you can create a text (TXT) record on the domain but I found the default option to be the easiest route. There are two options for managing your domain on Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium. For those wishing to take full advantage of the service, it’s typically better to have Microsoft Office 365 manage the Domain Name System (DNS) records for your domain. This is the easiest path and the one I used during testing. However, you can also manage this yourself if you have a specific setup that you’d either prefer to manage or if you are locked into another vendor. If you go that route, then Microsoft hands you the settings and you must enter them on the appropriate panel on your domain service.
At this point, you’ll be ready to start using Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium. As a next step, it’s also a good idea to download Microsoft Office, which includes Microsoft Outlook as well as Microsoft Skype for Business Online and Microsoft Teams in order to get the most out of your Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium experience.
Licensing is tracked automatically online. Depending on your subscription, you’ll get a certain number of installs per user. If you ever need to reassign an install to a different machine, then you’ll need to remove an older install from the portal. For new users or those who aren’t IT admins, be aware that these licensing screens aren’t all that intuitive; you’ll need to be careful when accessing and altering them.
The best way to manage email with Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium is with Outlook Web Access (OWA). This is just a web-based version of Outlook that’s highly reminiscent of the desktop product but with a sleek, modern look. Calendars, contacts, and tasks are where you’d expect them to be, but the inbox has an interesting twist to it. Rather than just being a dumping ground for all incoming email, it defaults to a focused view. This is a new and constantly improving machine learning (ML) algorithm that attempts to figure out which email is most important to you. Everything else goes to the regular inbox. While it might remind you of the conversational approach to email sorting found in Google G Suite Business, it’s not quite the same thing. As you sort emails between the focused view and other, it gradually gets better, helping you to concentrate on email that matters most.
Mentions are also a helpful and slightly hidden feature. When creating a new email, if you prepend someone’s name with the @ sign, it will automatically Cc that individual. There is also a filter that can be applied to only show you emails where you were mentioned. If used properly, it can cut down on emails that you read just because someone decided to Cc the entire organization, and keep you reading emails that require your attention.
Microsoft has also worked hard to ensure that office communication doesn’t stop at email, and I found that only Google G Suite Business came close to its capabilities in this area. Microsoft Skype for Business Online is an excellent platform for chatting with co-workers, sharing screens, or conducting full-on video conferencing. There is also Microsoft Teams, which is slowly beginning to supplant Microsoft Skype for Business Online. It includes far more features such as groups, wikis, and a collaborative space to share and edit documents in real time.
Also, while somewhat polarizing in IT circles, Microsoft SharePoint Online is included with the Business Premium tier. Having the option to create and share spaces capable of managing files, custom lists, agendas and more can make SharePoint an indispensible part of corporate workflow, though many IT professionals think its management layer is too burdensome. Admittedly, it takes a while to wrap your head around the various nuances of navigating and using the platform since it’s so freeform, but once you adopt some best practices, I’ve found it to be very powerful.
Privacy and Security
Microsoft has done a lot of work to improve their spam filtering capabilities. By leveraging Exchange Online Protection, it has many of the same first-class spam filtering capabilities on par with Google’s G Suite and easily exceeding those of Amazon WorkMail. The level of filtering is configurable based on a series of thresholds that the system uses to block spam and viruses. You can also define custom filters and attributes that will flag email as spam. The default settings work very well, but I often found that some legitimate email can get unfairly flagged, so it can take a bit of fiddling to get it perfect. In some ways, Microsoft’s solution adopts the complete opposite philosophy of Google. Google will just take care of spam. Microsoft, on the other hand, shows you all the options, and if you want to change it, it’s there. That being said, you probably won’t have to touch it often.
Still, as we’ve said previously, it’s dangerous to rely on any one vendor when it comes to security and privacy. If these factors are important to you, then remember that Microsoft in this scenario is still acting as just a cloud-based provider. To protect your users locally, you should still invest in data encryption, especially for locally stored files or those you store with a provider other than Microsoft. Additionally, make sure your privacy and data-in-transit is protected by investing in a reputable virtual private network (VPN) service for every user in your organization and across all the devices they use.
Microsoft has many options available for integration. The list of direct, pre-built integrations is huge due to the company’s massive partner ecosystem, but a partial list includes popular software from Boomerang to Salesforce. There is also a rich API accessible to developers. The extra benefit, of course, is that Microsoft also provides their popular Visual Studio line of tools for those inclined to build their own plug-ins.
Office 365 Business Premium is everything a company could want at an affordable price. It also includes the office suite that many grew up using. While not every component is easy to use, most of them are. It also provides top-notch security and availability that Microsoft stands behind. Given all the contributing factors, Office 365 is an easy pick for Editors’ Choice.