A Guide to Microsoft Office 365

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Last Updated
May 1, 2023
A Guide to Microsoft Office 365

How to Edit SharePoint Online Files on the iPad

  • Editing Office 365 files on the iPad recommended only in emergencies.

One of the most surprising challenges with Office 365’s SharePoint Online is to get it working effectively on an iPad. The solutions are by no means easy or straightforward.

The workaround below uses third-party applications on the iPad as middlemen to download files stored in SharePoint Online to the iPad for editing and then save them back up to SharePoint.

The most important app you’ll need to get documents to and from SharePoint is DropBox. A free account lets you synchronise up to 2GB of files between the cloud and your desktop. Once in the cloud you can access those files from your iPad.

Next you’ll need an iPad app that can read Office documents in DropBox and edit them. There are a few; I chose Office2 Plus. There is both an iPad and an iPhone app starting from around $6. The free versions let you view Office documents but not edit them, which is the same situation if you log in through your browser and use the native Office Web Apps in SharePoint Online. So to edit documents you’ll need to shell out for the full version.

Finally, you are going to need an app that can access your SharePoint Online site. Again, there are a few of these but the one chosen here is called SharePlus. The Pro version is $14.99 which lets you make changes rather than just read files.

Now we have all the apps in place on our iPad (DropBox, Office2 Plus and SharePlus).

If you open documents in DropBox first and then select Office2 Plus to edit them, you will receive an error message saying the file is read-only and cannot be saved. You can make it work if it’s set up properly.

Follow the steps below:

1. Log into Office2 Plus and add your DropBox account. DropBox should now appear as a storage option under Cloud Folders in Office2 Plus.

2. Log into SharePlus and add the details for your SharePoint Online site. You should now be able to browse your SharePoint site.

3. While browsing the SharePoint site with SharePlus, select a file you want to edit and choose to open it with DropBox. If you edit it with SharePlus you won’t be able to save it back to the SharePoint site.

4. Once the file has uploaded to DropBox, close DropBox and open Office2Plus.

5. Open the file in Office2 Plus in the DropBox folder, edit it and save it back to DropBox.

6. Open DropBox, find the file and save it back to SharePlus on the iPad.

7. Open SharePlus, select Add Document, find the file in the Local Files folder, and load it back to the SharePoint site.

In summary what we have done is configured DropBox as a temporary storage and sharing area between iPad apps. It really shouldn’t be this difficult to edit a file from Office 365 SharePoint Online.

The major issue probably lies at the feet of the iPad which doesn’t allow apps to share their local storage. If they did chances are we could everything via SharePlus. It would also help if Office Web Apps in edit mode worked as it does on a PC allowing full document updating from a web browser. If you really want to point the finger at anyone for these restrictions you really have to point it at Apple.

So even though editing documents from Office 365 SharePoint online is possible it is not something that you would be doing on a regular basis, it is really only in “case of emergency” stuff. As it stands the iPad is more a SharePoint Online viewing device than a document editing device.

Applications like SharePlus certainly make viewing SharePoint on an iPad much easier and editing other SharePoint information like lists, calendars and tasks is straightforward. It is only when we start trying to edit documents that we begin to have complications.

Hopefully the future will bring a more integrated editing solution for Office 365 and SharePoint Online. With two competing software businesses needing to resolve these issues, it may mean a long wait until users realise the promise of full Office 365 SharePoint Online functionality via an iPad.

How to monitor storage usage in SharePoint Online

Three ways to show storage breakdown.

Office 365 users get quite a bit of storage on SharePoint Online for content, be it files, metadata, databases, etc. Customers on the Small Business and Professionals plan receive up to 35GB in total however those on Enterprise plans can store up to 5TB.

The question then becomes – how do you monitor how much space your SharePoint Online site collection is used? This opens up the further question of understanding what sub-sites and libraries in SharePoint Online are consuming.

There are three different ways to monitor the space used in SharePoint Online.

The first is at the site collection level (accessible by going to https://portal.microsoftonline.com) where customers can manage the total amount of space allocated to each site collection, as well as seeing the total amount of space utilised. Note that this can only be accessed for customers on Enterprise plans.

The first method doesn’t provide you with any understanding of where the storage space within SharePoint Online is being consumed. The second method utilises the Storage Metrics functionality which can be accessed by clicking on Site Settings and then Storage Metrics underneath Site Collection Administration.

The first time you click on Storage Metrics it will most likely show no data, however if you check back within a few hours the breakdown of content usage will then be shown. What is great about Storage Metrics is that it allows you to drill down to each site, library and even folder to show a very granular report on your storage consumption.

The third and far more granular method is to use third-party utilities which connect to your SharePoint Online site collections and interrogate them to determine usage patterns and trends as well as licence consumption. Most of these tools cost money, however Quest Software recently released its Site Administrator Reports for SharePoint Online as an on-demand solution for free. This tool can be accessed by browsing to http://sar.ondemand.quest.com.

All of the above provide administrators of Office 365 environments with a variety of information to allow them to monitor and manage the storage usage of their SharePoint Online site collections.

How to open docs in Office Web Apps by default

For faster access on a desktop.

The Office Web Apps in Microsoft Office 365 are a great way for users to quickly view, edit or create documents without needing to launch a full version of the relevant Office application.

While this behaviour is default for tablet and smartphone users who don’t have a full Office application installed, on a Windows computer it is a different story.

There are many scenarios where a customer may want their documents to be opened in Office Web Apps by default. Say for example to increase the speed of access and modifications, or to save bandwidth when working with large documents on SharePoint Online which may take some time to download to the local computer.

This functionality can be enabled at the site collection level so that it applies across the board.

The first step is to click on Site Actions:

The next step is to enter the administration section of SharePoint Online by selecting Site Settings.

You will then need to locate Site collection features located underneath the Site Collection Administration section.

Locate the Open Documents in Client Applications by Default and select Deactivate.

This will now specify that every link to an Office file within your SharePoint site collection will open within the relevant Office Web App.

This setting can be overridden on an individual library level which I will cover in another post.

Why Microsoft’s Outlook for iOS Leaves Mail for Dead

Last week Microsoft launched Outlook for iOS, an app that includes Microsoft’s familiar email, calendar, contacts and files. Outlook for iOS is not a simple port of the Windows app – it includes features that leave the default iOS app Mail in the dust.

The app works with all major email services (including Outlook.com, Exchange Server, Office 365, Yahoo, Gmail, etc) and is free for personal use. An Office 365 subscription enables commercial use rights for businesses.

Microsoft also released Android versions of Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint which can be downloaded from the Google Play store.

Microsoft has already released the cornerstone apps of its Office suite on Apple’s iOS platform. The apps include features designed for the respective operating systems and specific to the format of the device, whether smartphones or tablets.

Android and iOS users can create, print and perform “core editing” functions in Office documents but can’t use all editing options or save the documents to an online storage service. Subscribers to Microsoft’s cloud productivity suite, Office 365, gain access to full editing features and OneDrive or DropBox storage.

Commercial Office 365 subscribers can save their documents to commercial storage (OneDrive for Business, DropBox for Business and SharePoint), use enterprise-grade security, IT management tools like MDM for Office 365 (mobile device management), and commercial use rights.

A Big Leap in Mobile Email

Let’s get back to Outlook for iOS and take a look at what makes it special. Microsoft has addressed a bunch of common issues with mobile email apps that makes old Apple Mail look pretty lame.

The Outlook app for iOS separates email into two tabs – Focused and Other. Important emails appear in your Focused inbox. If you move email in or out of your Focused inbox, Outlook remembers in a similar way to Gmail’s tabbed sections. Outlook also has a one-click unsubscribe for newsletters to reduce unwanted mail.

Outlook shows a list of recently received email attachments, uses predictive search to find subject lines and senders’ names, and can search across cloud storage and email attachments. A search filter sorts files by type.

Outlook has adopted Apple Mail and Gmail for iOS’s swipe gestures – swipe right or left to take actions like archive, delete, move, flag, mark as read/unread or schedule. Unlike other email apps, Outlook lets you personalise these swipe gestures to match your email habits. If you want to process one email later, the ‘Schedule Email’ feature temporarily removes it from your inbox, to return at the time you choose.

Send contacts a choice of times selected from your calendar.
The calendar in Outlook for iOS looks good, quite similar to Apple Calendar.
Outlook for iOS even sends files from Google Drive and Dropbox, as well as Microsoft OneDrive.
Outlook for iOS interfaces for iPad and iPhone.

The bigger news is that Outlook for iOS users can attach files from cloud storage – and not just Microsoft’s own OneDrive. You can send from competitors such as Dropbox and even Google Drive. This is truly a post-Ballmer product.

Microsoft has also done an excellent job at integrating the Outlook calendar with the iOS operating system. In Outlook, calendars are available right within the app, allowing direct interaction with email, including features like viewing meeting details, invitees and their attendance status. The ‘Quick RSVP’ feature lets you respond to meetings (Accept/Tentative/Decline) right from your inbox, without even opening the mail.

The ‘Send Availability’ feature lets you find and share available meeting times in email . Once you’ve settled on a time, you can even create a meeting invitation – all handled without leaving the app.

Outlook for iOS and the upcoming app for Android will replace the OWA (Outlook Web App) for iPhone, iPad and Android apps. Businesses who want features such as information rights management should continue to use the OWA for Devices app on phones and tablets for the near term. These advanced features will be coming to Outlook on iOS and Android in the coming months.

Here is the Microsoft post announcing the Outlook for iOS release. The company has put together an FAQ, pasted below.

Frequently asked questions

Q. Which accounts can Outlook connect to?

A. Outlook can sync mail, contacts, calendar and files from Office 365, Exchange Online, Exchange Server (2007 SP2, 2010, 2013), Outlook.com (including Hotmail, Live, and MSN), Gmail, iCloud and Yahoo! Mail.

For cloud storage, Outlook connects to OneDrive, Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive and Box. We will be updating Outlook to connect to OneDrive for Business.

Q. What markets and languages will Outlook be available in?

A. Outlook is available in all markets supported by the iOS App Store and Google Play Store. Users in any of these markets will be able to download Outlook.

The Outlook user interface is translated in 30 languages: English, Norwegian (Bokmål), Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Traditional Chinese, Turkish, Ukrainian and Vietnamese.

Q. What versions of iOS and Android are supported?

A. Outlook can run on iOS 8.0+ and Android 4.0 and above.

Q. Why is the app called “Outlook Preview” on Android?

A. The iOS version of Outlook is ahead of the Android version in terms of features and performance. Once we have completed sufficient work on Android to close the gap we will remove the Preview label.

Q. What happens to the current Outlook Web Access (OWA) for iPhone/iPad/Android apps?

A. The new Outlook app replaces OWA for iPhone/iPad/Android. We are leaving the OWA for iPhone/iPad/Android apps in market for the time being because there are some advanced Office 365 and Exchange Server features that are not yet available in Outlook. Customers who require these advanced features (e.g. viewing Information Rights Management protected mails, support for Apps for Outlook) can continue to use OWA for iPhone/iPad/Android until those features are available in Outlook.

Q. Does the new Outlook app work with Outlook.com?

A. Yes, we encourage Outlook.com users with iOS and Android devices to download and use the app.  Outlook replaces the previous Outlook.com Android app.

SharePoint is not a file system

Make sure you’re getting the most out of SharePoint.

I have been working with SharePoint for the past decade and have seen it transform from the basic Version 1 product through to the advanced SharePoint Online as part of Office 365.

During this transformation I have seen it move from a basic intranet in a box through to a comprehensive business intelligence and collaboration platform.

Previously a customer requiring SharePoint involved an extensive consultation and planning phase, hardware and software procurement, and a large amount of professional services for deployment and customisation.

In recent times with Microsoft Office 365 (and its precursor BPOS) the journey to SharePoint has become much shorter – now with the ability to simply subscribe to the service, create a site and begin using it.

This is a fantastic solution for SMBs where implementing SharePoint can very quickly improve day to day operations.

However, it regularly pains me when I hear people refer to SharePoint as a document management system or a way to simply share files. Quite often SharePoint is positioned based on its document library functionality and left as such. This has become even more so the case recently with businesses seeing SharePoint Online as simply a way to store files in the cloud.

This brings us to the title of this piece: SharePoint is not a file system. I believe that the file storage functionality really only equates to 1% of its true potential. If SharePoint Online has been positioned to you as document management or storage in the cloud – you have been sold short.

Let’s sidestep for a moment.

Cars are amazing things – they allow us to get from A to B far quicker than ever before, more efficiently and more safely. Most cars also have a radio in them. But would you sell them as just a radio? No. You also wouldn’t sell it to be used as a wheelbarrow, although it can be that too. And while they’re easy to use, you wouldn’t get your local mechanic to build you one either.

Like a car, businesses buy SharePoint for its full capabilities, not just for the radio. And they need an expert to build it. SharePoint has become its own platform that has created a sub-industry within IT.

When talking to your IT partner about SharePoint Online and being more collaborative by harnessing the power of the cloud, don’t just stop at the file sharing. Challenge them to provide you with examples of solutions they have built, training services offered, third-party tools they harness, and most importantly how their customers are actually using SharePoint.

If they can’t answer this and just talk about storing files, remember: SharePoint is not a file system.

The eight best and eight worst things about Microsoft Office 365

Discover whether it is right for your business.

Microsoft has done a great job of taking its office suite into the cloud with Office 365. It has focused on making the move to the cloud as seamless as possible.

And yet the software vendor has also made it unnecessarily complicated, with a handful of licensing plans which restrict access to features.

Is Office 365 right for your business? The answer depends on what you think is most important. Below are eight of the best reasons to buy Office 365, and eight reasons to walk away.


1. Compatibility

Documents and spreadsheets sent in the latest Microsoft formats can show graphs and fonts incorrectly or not at all in Google Apps. Office 365 guarantees that all Microsoft Office documents will be displayed in the correct format with no missing information.

2. Excel

Many businesses run on a stack of Excel spreadsheets. Google’s spreadsheet application is not as full featured as Excel and can’t run Excel macros. Businesses that don’t want to spend the effort changing the way they run don’t have to with Office 365.

3. No retraining

Everyone knows how to use Microsoft Office. Office 365 adds the benefits of cloud without staff needing to learn new ways of doing things. This means less time and money spent on retraining.

4. Co-operation with Microsoft desktop software

Office 365 has been designed as an extension of the Microsoft Office desktop software. The level of cooperation or integration between Office 365 and Microsoft Office is excellent and vastly improves the ability of workers to share documents and information without overhauling work processes.

5. Greatest number of features

Microsoft Office is still miles ahead of any other office suite, whether it’s making sales documents with impressive layouts and graphics in Word, running multiple-sheet spreadsheets in Excel or creating presentations with all the bells and whistles in PowerPoint. Apple’s iLife suite is closest but Google Apps comes a very distant third.

6. Communications

Office 365 introduced the world to Lync Online, a communications platform that looks like a Microsoft version of Skype. It can make voice and video calls to other staff members and potentially people outside your business; share the application you have running on your computer with others over the internet; and hold phone conferences with other callers on landlines, mobiles or PCs, among other things. It’s a powerful tool that could be incredibly useful to many businesses.

7. Website templates

Office 365 includes SharePoint Online, a program that helps staff share information and create internal and external websites. SharePoint Online comes with a big library of templates that make it very easy to set up a professional-looking site for managing a project.

8. Easier administration

Microsoft put a lot of effort into making the small business version of Office 365 easier for the business owner to manage. With a little training and guidance, a business owner should be able to look after their own staff for managing email, websites and so on.

Next page – the dealbreakers for Office 365


1. Licensing complexity

Office 365 comes with seven plans with varying restrictions. Business owners will have to decide on what features each employee requires and buy a plan to match. Extra licences are required for accessing SharePoint sites. This creates a licence management headache as employees get promoted, change roles, are hired or fired.

2. Expensive

The two top plans in Office 365 are more than eight times the price of Google Apps, from $40.15 per month for the E3 plan. The E3 and E4 plans are the only ones that have access to all features in Office 365.

3. Tied to desktop software

Businesses can’t get by with just Office 365. They will need to buy both the cloud (Office 365) and desktop (Microsoft Office) versions. This is not just expensive but means businesses still have to worry about upgrading and patching their desktop software, which adds cost, effort and security risks.

4. Small business plan limited to 50 users

Microsoft says that its small business plan is for businesses with up to 25 users, though the P1 plan will actually extend to 50 users. Add one more staff member and you have to upgrade. The definition of a small business seems to have shrunk since Microsoft sold Small Business Server, which was licensed for up to 75 users.

5. No upgrade or mixing with small business plan

The P1 plan for professionals and small business, which has restricted access to features, cannot be mixed with enterprise licences. There is no easy upgrade to the enterprise plans – the upgrade requires data to be migrated by an IT services company.

6. Mac unfriendly

Office 365 works best with the Windows Explorer internet browser which isn’t available for Macs. There is no Lync Online client for Macs either, and it is very difficult to use Office 365 from an iPhone or iPad. (Edit: Microsoft says it will release the Lync Online Mac client later this month and that Office 365 fully supports Safari and Firefox browsers on the Mac.)

7. Mobile unfriendly

Not only does Office 365 work poorly with the iPhone and iPad, the experience is not much better on Android tablets and smartphones. Of course the suite works best with smartphones running Windows Phone 7, but the majority of users are either on Apple or Android. This is a big drawback when mobility is a key advantage of cloud computing.

8. A closed ecosystem

Microsoft has not been very open in allowing other companies to develop programs that connect with Office 365 and the Office desktop suite. Compare this to Google, which advertises a Google Apps marketplace of hundreds of applications made by other companies. Microsoft argues that programs work better if they are made by one company, but the net result is less choice for the customer.

For more advice on choosing between Office 365 and Google Apps, see our buyer’s advice page for productivity suites.

Which browsers work best with SharePoint Online?

Office 365’s compatibility with mainstream browsers varies.

It’s a simple fact that Internet Explorer (IE) is not the only browser used on the web. The rise of mobile-based browsing on smartphones and tablets running iOS or Android has certainly made software vendors like Microsoft develop their software to work better with the alternatives.

In the case of Office 365, Microsoft has been determined to ensure that its web-based solutions are as compatible with other browsers as possible.

Where once Firefox was a viable contender to IE people are starting to move towards Google Chrome for its speed and simplicity.

Personally I use IE for most of my day-to-day browsing, with Chrome there to provide me with access to various sites that might conflict with my IE browsing session. Chrome is such a nice browser sometimes I use it as my primary browser.

Chrome support was added to the most recent SharePoint Online updates, however it still can’t beat IE in terms of integration and functionality.

SharePoint pro Joel Oleson uses SharePoint for his blog and has put together a simple-to-read table comparing the different browsers. Here’s the main chart below; check out his blog for more details on compatibility.

Loryan Strant is a Microsoft Office 365 MVP (Most Valuable Professional). Follow him on Twitter @TheCloudMouth.

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