Yes, I consider myself a SharePoint geek, but I play more and more in the larger Office 365 (O365) sphere these days. In doing so, I’ve noticed that O365 as a concept is difficult to explain… both to IT folks and the everyday workers who are expected to use it.


I’ve blogged about the difference between SharePoint and O365 and answered the question “So, what is SharePoint?” in the past, but since those quaint days I’ve gotten neck deep in O365 and haven’t taken on explaining this subject.


That’s because I needed to understand it myself. And now I think I can give you a simple O365 overview that will work for anybody that needs/wants to use it, especially if you’re the IT person tasked with selling it to your CIO or the project manager tapped to roll it out to all your colleagues.


The most important thing is, no, O365 isn’t just Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook in your browser. That’s like saying your smartphone only makes phone calls.


O365 is an entire ecosystem of applications in the cloud. “In the cloud” simply means “on someone else’s computer but accessible on your device”. In this case, it’s Microsoft’s servers around the world. Microsoft stores and protects your organization’s info, upkeeps the system, and lets your IT team do other, higher-priority things.


Think of O365 as a new version of Windows, accessible pretty much anywhere. It comes complete with its own Start Menu with the waffle.


Gone are the days of email and file shares only accessible in the office. Now you literally have your conversations and files at your fingertips: in your Android’s apps, on Safari on your Mac, Firefox on your PC, Chrome on your iPad. You name it.


On the level of everyday use, O365 is simply a collection of apps that have various uses. Some use cases overlap to an extent, but even apps that seem redundant are applicable in subtly different ways that can improve your team’s productivity and efficiency. Take some time to understand the differences.


Below is my attempt at a simple, graphical way to show you what O365 is, what the apps do, and how they’re related. No accurate overview of O365 is simple. As with many topics, simplification implies a drop in accuracy. So take this with a grain of salt.


Like the Periodic Table of Elements’ way of organizing elements by similar chemical properties, my Periodic Table of Office 365 is organized by families of apps. It shows everything available in the O365 ecosystem, regardless of extra cost or license type, plus a little taste of what it does.


I hope this can help you and your colleagues understand O365 a little bit better.


Also available in Spanish 🇪🇸 and German 🇩🇪!


Click the image below for a high-resolution version. Yes, you may use this in a presentation, document, etc. for internal use only. All I ask is you credit me, point to the source link (, and let me know when you use it. I like knowing where my work ends up. For licensing options to use in sales documents or other profit-bearing efforts, please contact me directly through LinkedIn chat. This took a lot of time, energy, and creativity to make. Please don’t swipe it to make a buck at my expense. Please and thank you. 🙂


Ninja edit: Still wondering about Office 365 Groups? Well, they’re not actually apps! So they’re not in this article. But I cover them with an infographic here.


Version history

  1. 2017-06-17: Added Microsoft Forms, as documented here.
An everyday intro to Office 365

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