Microsoft Office 365, First Impression

Yesterday, Microsoft announced the integration of several “cloud” services into one: Microsoft Office 365. This also signals the end of their Office Live Small Business offering, which is certainly welcome news to me. More on that later.

Office 365 comes in a few different flavors. The key difference between the old vs new products is that 365 includes licenses for MS Office WebApps or Office Pro, depending on the version. Naturally it’s a subscription license that ends if you stop your service. This is nice as it’s an all-in-one cost that can ensure everyone in your company is using the same version of Office. On the other hand, there are 2-3 very nice Office suites available free. I’m thinking of openoffice.org, zohooffice.com, google apps, and even box.net has some nice features available in their free accounts.

You may remember MS Office Live SB as a “free forever” website and e-mail package that launched in 2006. Microsoft would register domain names on behalf of new sign-ups. After signing up, Microsoft sent a nice, large glossy envelope with all the pertinent details. About two years later they backtracked and changed the terms of service to say that “free” ended in 2009.

Which brings us to concern #1: After sending three e-mails to the e-mail address on record, MSOLSB’s third-party provider allowed customers’ domains to expire and immediately and irretrievably deleted all e-mail accounts and messages. I’ll write another entry with more details of these issues once I calm down again.

Yes, although Microsoft is a big name, the people in charge of some of the products CAN be “that stupid.”

Microsoft also changed their online licensing tool (formerly called eOpen) to make it better. Unfortunately the new VLSC site has been subject to several lengthy and unpredictable outages. It always is explained away as “planned work” but there never seems to be notice posted or sent to anyone. Even Microsoft’s biggest fans are having MONTHS of trouble with this.

Microsoft can’t run a reliable website so their customers can pay them.

Concern #3: Microsoft has been running this for a while and had some issues. I understand MSOLSB is not an “apples-for-apples” comparison with the Office 365 hosted Exchange service…that’s more like Microsoft’s paid Business Productivity Online Service (BPOS), a paid service that has been running for a couple years now. There have been some meaningful outages and concerns have been raised about recovery time and recovery point with the service.

I have signed up for the Office 365 beta, and will be testing. At this time, though I recommend more reliable hosted mail services. The feature set and promised capabilities sound impressive for the price. It’ll be a service to watch but I’m not going to be the first to move my clients onto it.

I’d love to hear your experiences with Microsoft’s online services.

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