How to create an Office 365 Lab

Posted on • 11 min read

Tags: office 365

03/11/2018 - You may notice that all the images from within this post have gone "missing". I had issues with a VM migration that went slightly wrong. I'll need to manually re-create all of them... which will take a while :( The content is still here, but if you like pictures you'll be sad. Remember kids "the condition of any backup is unknown until a restore is attempted"!!

Office 365 is an ever-changing product. It seems to be ever increasing in popularity amongst companies big and small. Like every Microsoft product it has its critics, and it has its evangelists. I'm in the evangelist camp. I'm yet to find anything that can match up to the Office 365 product set, for better or worse. I've tried a lot of what's out there as well. Whether it's desktop competitors like LibreOffice, or cloud competitors like Google Apps. None of them give the level of quality and functionality that Office 365 does.

I'm currently subscribed to the Office 365 Business Essentials package and use Exchange to host my personal email. For £3.80 per month I get a 50GB Exchange mailbox with 1 TB of OneDrive for Business storage (superb for offsite, encrypted backups). Additionally, I get to play around with SharePoint, Teams, Yammer, and Office Online.
That represents great value for the price, and I sell it to my wife by telling her it's a great learning tool - which it is! I have the same access to Office 365 that businesses have on a daily basis, and that can only help me in the long run.

Considering all this, I thought I'd write a guide for anyone that's interested in playing around with Office 365. It's simple to get started, and it's a lot easier than you might realise.

Office 365 is like many of the important cloud tools out there - in the sense that they are accessible. Just as AWS, Azure and Docker are accessible to anyone, so is Office 365. That means there is no reason not to dive in and learn the ropes. You don't have to wait until you are supporting it in your job, you can use it right now without worrying about breaking anything.

Before we start though there are a couple of things you need before you can get started with Office 365:

  • Domain name - you’re going to need to get a domain if you don't already have one, and one that you can edit the DNS records for.
  • Valid phone number - So you can verify your trial account.

Most domains are very cheap nowadays (you can pick up an .xyz domain for under £1!) so you shouldn't have too much trouble getting one. I recommend 123-Reg but there are lots of good domain registrars out there. Get a domain and then you can follow along.

Let's get started.

Sign up to an Office 365 Trial

Office 365 offers a 30-day trial, with no credit card required.

The Office 365 trial gives you a 25 licence Office 365 Enterprise E3 subscription. Which is fantastic. It's packed full of features and will give you a great overview of Office 365. Each license costs £17.60 per user/month outside of the trial.

Let's head over to the Office 365 Trial.

The page won't look like a trial but click the Try with Office 365 link under the white subscription details box to get started.


There may be other ways to sign up, but I couldn't find a specified trial signup page, so this will do!

On the next page you'll need to fill in your details and then click Next. As mentioned above you'll need a real phone number to use for verification.


We can now create a User ID, and a password. If you like, have some fun here, as you can see I have!
This will be your main administrator account until you assign admin rights to another user. So, make sure you remember these details.
When you’re ready click Create my account.


Now you need to do the ever annoying, but necessary "prove your real test" or as Microsoft puts it the "Prove. You’re. Not. A. Robot" check! Select your country code and type your phone number in and click Text Me or Call me.


Whichever way you get your code, type it in and then click Next.


All being well, if you’re not a robot, you’ll get an overview page whilst your new account gets setup. Make a note if you haven’t already, of the details you’ll need. Once done you can click the You’re ready to go... link.


This will take you into the Office 365 Portal and you'll get an intro overlay like below:


You’ll also have an annoying blue box covering the link to the app we need, telling you to download Office 2016. We can ignore it and press the X. Once that's closed click on the Admin app to open the Office 365 Admin center (if it doesn’t load and shows you a blank screen, give it a refresh).


You'll get another banner which you can close. Although feel free to take the tour. Anytime I'm offered a tour of an app in such a way I tend to decline. I enjoy the process of discovery!


With the sign-up process done let's add a domain. I hope you have one spare to use or went and bought the silliest domain you could come up with. I bought just for this tutorial! I tend to buy domains with the money I get back in compensation from my ever delayed trains !

Adding a Domain

Let’s get our chosen domain added to Office 365. It's a straightforward enough process, that looks complicated but isn't.

Make sure you're on the home page of the Admin center first. You can click the Home link on the sidebar if you're not.


Then to start the process of adding a domain click on Setup and then Domains.


You'll see the only "domain" you currently have, which is the default one you're given when you sign up.

Let’s click Add domain.


On the overlay that pops up, enter the name of the domain you wish to use and click Next.


Now we need to verify we own the domain. You can verify using a DNS TXT record or an MX record. We'll go with the TXT record.


My registrar is 123-Reg, but the process is the same no matter what registrar. Bear in mind you may need to adapt it slightly.

Open your DNS registrar's control panel. Find the place where you manage your DNS records, and start by creating a new TXT record.
If you have no option for TTL don't worry about it. In the below example I would click Add to confirm the addition of my TXT record.


Back in Office 365 we can now click Verify. All being well, it'll detect the record added to your DNS records and move onto the Set up your online services page.

It can take 5-10 minutes or longer depending on your registrar. With new domains I tend to find it detects it quickly, but it may be a case of patiently waiting (urgh!).


We going to need to pick an option now. You can select, Set up my online services for me. (Recommended) or I'll manage my own DNS records.

If you think you may host a site or service alongside Office 365 in the future, then click I'll manage my own DNS records. This will allow us to keep control of our DNS records, instead of having Office 365 do it for us. So, let's go with that option.

Select the second option and click Next.


You can now Choose your online services. We'll select all three options. Exchange, Skype for Business and Mobile Device Management for Office 365. Click Next when done.

Selecting all three now means we won't have to alter the DNS records in the future if we decide to enable a service.


Now, we're onto the Update DNS Settings page.
We need to add all the records on this page to the DNS records for our domain on our registrars control panel. There's various types to add.


To help you understand what these should look like I've included them below for the domain I set up for this post. Remember the process may be different, depending on your registrar.

Adding MX records


Adding CNAME records


Add TXT records


Add SRV records

These can be a bit more complicated to type out, so make sure you get it right.


After doing this your DNS records should look something like this:


Let’s jump back over to Office 365. You can now click Verify and all being well it will pick the records up straight away. You may have to wait a while.


Once done that's it. You'll get a message of congratulations and you can click Finish.


Adding a User

We've finished the initial setup, so let’s create our first user.

From the left sidebar, click on Users then Active users and on the Active users overview page click Add a user.



An overlay page will swing in from the right and we can manually create a user for our Office 365 instance.

Let's get to work filling in the user details. These will include First & Last Name, Display name, and Username. Our domain will get selected automatically.


Go through the form and under Contact information fill in whatever is relevant to you.


Next, we can move down to Password and select how we want to proceed. I'll let you make this decision, but I tend to select Let me create the password.

You can leave Make this user change their password when they first sign in checked or unchecked. In an enterprise environment you would leave it checked. That'll allow you to force the new user to change their initial password when they first sign in.


Under Roles, in most cases you'll leave this set to User (no administrator access.


Next, we move onto Product Licences. This is where we'll select the subscription we want to assign to this user. In our case we have 25 trial licenses to play with. One of our trial licenses will automatically assign itself to this user. If it doesn't click the button to turn it on.


Click the blue Add button at the bottom to add the user.

We'll now get a short summary of the user that we've added, and an option to email the password to an email address.

Dependent on whether you leave Send password in email ticked or not, click Send email and close or Close.


You'll now be back at the Active users overview page and you can see our new user is now listed under our domain.


Now it's time to try logging in as our new user to make sure everything is working.

Logging in as the new user

I tend to open a private browser session now, otherwise I have to log out of the admin session.
Whichever way you want to do it, either log out, or go to again. Then sign in with the details you have created for the new user.

Skip the intro boxes again, and under your available apps click on Outlook.


Outlook web app will open in a new tab, and you need to select a language and time zone and click Save.


Outlook will then open your mailbox for the first time. Woohoo!


All being well, and maybe for the first time in your life, you'll be looking at a blank inbox! Enjoy it whilst you can!


It's always good to send and reply to a test email. So, let's give that a quick try to ensure our domain's DNS is indeed setup correctly and our mailbox is working as expected.

Start by sending an outbound email from our user’s mailbox to our own mailbox.


Then head over to your inbox and see if it's arrived safe and sound.

Looks good to me! We should reply to ensure our new user can receive emails (and Darth Sidious doesn't like to be left hanging).

Yep, all good. Message received, but probably not understood... I don't reckon that will stop him. We might have to send Vader.



That's it, we've done it! Let's recap on what we've accomplished:

  • We've signed up to an Office 365 Trial.
  • We've configured a domain's DNS settings to point to Office 365.
  • We've created a user and tested their mailbox.

Not bad for an hour’s work!

The sky is the limit! You can do loads with Office 365. I'll be looking to connect via PowerShell and experiment with that functionality next. I'll no-doubt blog about that too.

Have a play, you can't break anything important. Have a look at everything down the sidebar, click some links, see where you end up. It's full of configurable options, and there's a lot to learn. Be sure to check out the Admin centers menu at the bottom of the sidebar. At the very least make sure you create a lot more users, and maybe some distribution groups? Use up those trial licenses!

Thanks for following along.