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Four Office 365 Features You’re Probably Under-utilizing

Any complex suite of software tools includes a broad range of features and capabilities. Some of them take time to uncover, and even long-time users rarely get around to exploiting them all. Certainly, over the decades that I have used Microsoft’s Office suite of productivity tools, there was a swath of capabilities I never delved into, even though I would honestly classify myself a power user of all five applications that are included in the full suite.

When Microsoft introduced Office 365, the SaaS (Software as a Service) version of the suite, it also introduced a host of new capabilities and ancillary services that were made possible by its cloud-based nature. So it’s probably more true than ever that there are powerful and useful features that you haven’t yet discovered or that you are under utilizing. Here’s a short list of my favorites:

1. Real-time collaboration

It might be overstating things to say that bringing far better collaboration to Office was the driving motivation behind Microsoft’s shift to an SaaS model. But doing so certainly addressed what had long been the software giant’s perceived Achilles’ heel – it lagged competitors such as Google Docs in allowing users to collaborate on documents, especially in real time.

Office 365 has gone a long way to correcting that deficiency. Users can collaborate – seamlessly and in real time – using the browser-based versions of the Office applications. Live typing means both you and anyone else working on the document will see changes being made as they happen. Real-time collaboration is also possible with the desktop versions of the applications, although changes made by other users will not update in your version with the same immediacy.

2. Skype calls and chat

Microsoft’s 2011 purchase of Skype unleashed a torrent of analysis as to why the software giant made the US$8.5B deal, especially since Microsoft already had its own Live Messenger service and its enterprise-class equivalent, Lync. With the launch of Office 365, Microsoft’s strategy of platform cross-pollination became much clearer.

Office 365 subscribers get 60 minutes per month of Skype calls to landlines in 60 countries and to mobile phones in eight, including Canada and the United States. More critically, perhaps, having Skype open when using the desktop version of Office 365 automatically enables chat within the application. Chat is also available within Office Online, although users need to specifically invoke it. However you launch chat, there’s no arguing it adds a useful new dimension to in-app collaboration, including, as of late last year, Skype group chatting. And Microsoft is about to make it even easier for you to launch a chat session with everyone working on a document.

3. Web apps

Even though a business subscription to Office 365 allows you to run the application on up to five PC or Mac desktop or mobile devices, there may still be occasions when you – or, more importantly, people with whom you share documents – will need to access them on a device that does not have a licensed version of the application installed.

Office Online, the name now applied to a suite of free web apps that Microsoft unveiled when it launched Office 365, allows you to give anyone access to any document you have stored in OneDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage service. Non subscribers can make basic edits to those documents and you can even do basic real-time collaboration with people who do not subscribe to Office 365.

4. Commenting

Although I used it heavily, I always hated the way commenting was handled in previous versions of Office applications, especially if comments were numerous or were being added by several different document editors. These complexities often dissuaded users from exploiting this essential collaboration tool.

Office 365 brings a more contemporary look and feel to commenting that makes it easier to use and clearer to read. Comments are still off to the right but they now are organized into blocks that make their hierarchy more evident. Hovering over a comment, meanwhile, immediately highlights the section of the document to which it applies.

The bottom line

These are just a few of the new features of Office 365 that I think users tend to overlook and that would make the tool even more productive for them.

What over-looked feature have you found that you think other readers would like to hear about? Share your tips in the comments section, below.

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