When Microsoft announced that they were jumping into the Cloud Based office arena with Office 365 many were excited. Don’t get me wrong Google Apps is a very strong platform and works well for many organizations of all sizes. However there are many people who are just more comfortable at this time with Microsoft Office.
As many did I wanted to check it out and see how this might benefit the small and medium business organizations that I deal with. So I signed up for the beta and gave it a try.
For most part I was actually quite impressed with the setup and management of the environment. It actually seems Microsoft has learned quite a bit from competitors like Apple and Google and got out of its own way. The administration was simplified and straight forward and not overly crowded with useless links and “features”.
However one thing you quickly notice is the lack of any good documentation. I literally had to, Bing uhm Google for documentation that others had set up. Many simple little things that could have easily been put into a one page document were spread all over the place. Whoever does their documentation needs to really take a look at what others have done, largely due to the pain they had to go through to set it up.
In the P1 plan you have to use their DNS servers for full functionality. I would not have a problem with this, if they actually let me do everything with the DNS. You are limited to the basic types of DNS entries and can’t even add an SPF record if you need to use additional SMTP servers.
Overall there are a lot of good features for the SMB organizations out there.
- 25GB Mailbox per user
- Up to 50 external users for the SharePoint site so you can setup work groups.
- LYNC online Meetings (webinar, chat, etc)
- Powerful Exchange settings
- Mobile support
- SharePoint with document versioning, workflow, work groups, etc.
It really is a pretty powerful system for the SMB market. There are a lot of controls that in the past were only available to the larger organizations.
SharePoint for all of its flaws is a very good and powerful document management system and work group tool, if nothing else. The online Office apps are actually quite good for most of your basic and slightly advanced needs. They work well even on my Android tablet.
Lync is actually down right awesome. It combines the internal communication / chat with very powerful online meeting including desktop sharing, live video, etc. I had very good experience giving live presentations and holding live meetings using it. The attendees are not required to have Lync, which is nice as well.
The Exchange was quite easy to setup and manage. It also had very good import capabilities for migration from Google Apps or other IMAP or POP email setups. The capability to have it periodically check during the DNS transition was nice, since you never know how long it may take.
However with the good there is plenty of, oops.
- No Phone or Ticket support
- Can’t upgrade from the P1 (Professional / SMB) to the Enterprise plan. So if you are planning to grow to more than 50 users you have to plan way ahead.
- You can’t buy additional SharePoint Storage. You get 10GB plus 500Mb for each user. This is a bit of a head scratcher to me. Why would you not want to allow your customers to pay you more money?
- As mention you have to use their DNS servers in the P1 plan.
- No SSL support!!! Let me repeat this, there is no SSL support for the SharePoint workspace. Now this may be the single biggest gotcha I have seen. You get SSL with the Enterprise plans, just not the SMB plan. What, does Microsoft think that Small Business does not need to store important files?
There have been more than a few clients that decided to either stay with or go with Google Apps due to this serious oversight by Microsoft. How can Microsoft even think about calling this a business system with such a lack of security?
Just think about this, every time you post a document that may have confidential information in it, it is now being sent to your document share in the clear.
Wow, I do not even know where to start. What is worse Microsoft seems to be oblivious to this fatal flaw. Everything I have seen in the forum is where Microsoft personnel pretty much go to the old “it’s a feature” and say you need to upgrade. Don’t get me wrong I understand the need to charge for additional features, but basic security and encryption should never be a feature like this. If nothing else, at least have it as a paid add on.
There are many things that I like about Office 365 over Google Apps, but the flaws that are there with Office 365 can be potential show stoppers for some. I am hopeful that Microsoft will do something about some of the very basic issues like the SSL.
So when deciding between onsite, other cloud based systems, Office 365, and Google Apps, make sure you understand all the potential pit falls that are there for each. Each one of the options comes with their own potential show stoppers.
For more information about Office 365 and where I went for help, I recommend checking out this article on Office365 Answers.