Why Would You Want to Rent Microsoft Office?

I recently did a presentation on technology trends in legal practice management, and one of the new products now coming over the horizon that I gave a mention to was Microsoft Office 365. No one in the audience of about 25 solo and small firm family law practitioners had even heard of it. Then, yesterday, Ben Schorr’s SmallLaw column in TechnoLawyer (subscription required) summed up the features and advantages of moving to this new product. His piece is great, as always, and worth a read, but I thought I’d take this opportunity to summarize the information in it for ASB members who don’t subscribe to TechnoLawyer.

The first thing you need to know is that Microsoft Office 365 is software for download on your own computers that you rent rather than buy. While one-payment licenses for locally installed software will likely continue to be available for the foreseeable future (however long that may be), more and more software companies are moving to deliver use of their products over the internet and, thus, are moving to a “rent” rather than “own” acquisition model. This offers many advantages to the software developers, the most obvious being a continuous revenue stream rather than a one-time sale. And for obvious financial reasons even companies that continue to deliver downloadable software would like to move to this rent rather than own model. So it’s not surprising that Microsoft has come up with a plan to turn its current purchasers into renters. Have they put together a package that’s sweet enough to entice lawyers to make this transition?

According to Ben, here’s what Office 365 offers:

  • Microsoft Office 2013 which including Word, Outlook, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote
  • Microsoft Exchange Server (necessary for email management and sharing and syncing of data among multiple users)
  • Microsoft SharePoint (collaboration and workflow program)
  • SkyDrive Pro (allows cloud-based collaboration and workflow within and outside the firm – such as client portals – along with cloud-based storage
  • Lync (communications software for secure instant messaging, phone service, video conferencing and screen sharing – such as web meetings)

These parts can be combined in many different ways to provide only the services that you or your firm need.

Obviously, there will be some advantages and disadvantages for lawyers who are migrating to Office 365 from one-time purchased software.

Advantages:

  • No up-front investment and low monthly cost (at least to begin with and as long as there are competitive options)
  • Each Microsoft Office 365 per-user license allows software installation on up to 5 computers that the user regularly uses
  • Both PC and Mac versions are available in each per-user license
  • Regular upgrades are available at no extra cost – but with reason you can control the upgrade schedule (unlike forced upgrades in cloud-based products)
  • Your package can easily be modified and scaled up or down as the number of people in your firm grows or shrinks
  • All of your stuff can be housed in Microsoft’s cloud and will be automatically backed up if it is

Disadvantages

  • While renting rather than owning may be an advantage in budgeting, your software will never be paid for
  • The default “save” option for Microsoft Word 2013 is to save to SkyDrive, requiring more clicks to save documents to your local machine or network
  • You won’t be able to hold off upgrades forever (as a lawyer I met recently who is still using Microsoft Office 98 seems to be doing)

We’ve been in more or less a stable holding pattern regarding law office document creation and storage since the late 1980s when most law offices moved away from the electric typewriter or proprietary word processing stations and to WordPerfect and storing documents on individual user PCs and then servers. As lawyers now move from purchased to rented software and from local to cloud-based storage for this and other workflow functions, I think we’re likely to see more options and competition in this market as time goes on.

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