Office 365 Update

Well, it has been a year now since my last post on this topic, and Microsoft is pushing pretty hard to make the Office 365 experience a good one. They have merged their SkyDrive product into Office 365 and it is becoming easier to use with features that are useful.

Administering of Office 365 (especially the SharePoint side) is still best left to a techie but once it is set up, it definitely works.  I have found that there is virtually no down time.  It has been available whenever I have needed it.

Microsoft still needs to realize that there are Mac users, and they aren’t going to go away.  Having been exposed recently, in a big way to the educational community, I have learned that Apple has quite a stronghold in the educational community.  This can’t help but slop over into the business community eventually as people age and gravitate more and more to tablets and phones for their day to day computing needs.

Each one of the components of Office 365 have been improved upon since its release.  The Lync app is now available for the Mac as well as Andriod, iPhone and Windows Phones.  The Outlook Web Application is a pretty capable web based email client and connecting to the Exchange based email from other devices is a snap.

The SharePoint component is well…SharePoint.  If you like SharePoint, you will like this feature.  However, SharePoint still does not play well with the Mac.  Many Windows features are not accessible from a Mac.  And, SharePoint still needs some significant admin support to make it run and administer a SharePoint site.  To think that a standard Knowledge worker has the time, desire or capability to deal with the intricacies of SharePoint, as it exists today, is pure folly.  Understanding and granting of permission and accessibility to a SharePoint site is beyond the purview of a typical worker.  My opinion is that SharePoint has a long way to go to fulfill its promise of a collaboration tool that can be managed by the user without the day to day involvement of an IT Professional but for those of us with the fortitude to push the envelope, SharePoint can certainly be a useful tool.  Just don’t expect it to work without a significant investment of time, training and money on your part.

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Office 365 – Is it for you?

In order to answer this question, you first need to know exactly what Office 365 is supposed to be!

Office 365 is a new “Cloud” hosted Software as a Service (SaaS) offering from Microsoft.  What does THAT mean???  That means that you can pay Microsoft a monthly fee to have 365 24/7 access to the applications and services that are part of Office 365.

Ideally SaaS should remove the complexity of administering the service from the people using the service.  In my opinion, this is where Office 365 falls far short.  It is really “Version 2” product.  Their first attempt at this was BPOS (Business Professional Online Suite – Even the name was complicated) which was obviously pieces cobbled together and marketed under a single banner in order for them to get their piece of the hosting market.  It was a complex kluge which didn’t accomplish the stated goal of removing the complexity of administration.

The idea of Office 365 is a good one however the implementation is little better than BPOS.  Even for the simplest set up, the complexity of administration still remains.  It still doesn’t do what you would expect it to do.  For example, you can set up Office 365 to receive your various emails from multiple domains but you can’t send out email from those addresses (known as aliases)!  Something Google can do with ease.

Office 365 is WAY too difficult for a typical knowledge worker to work with, without a significant learning curve.  This curve will negatively impact their productivity with little or no long-term return on that investment.  This is something small business can ill afford in today’s economy.

Apparently Microsoft thinks that the small business community gets a kick out of problem solving their applications.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  As a business person, I want my tools to be simple to use and effective. They should not get in the way of me doing my business.  Until Microsoft understands that, they will continue to lag behind in the SaaS/Cloud computing realm.  If I were you, I would wait for the next version.

The pieces that make up Office 365 are:

A hosted email service provider that can be accessed via Outlook or your browser through what is known as “Outlook Web Access” You can use the domain address that they provide or you can use a domain name of your own and create your own email addresses for your employees (ie: John@yourcompany.com) – This is based on Microsoft Exchange 2010

A collaboration tool that allows users to create virtual work areas to store files, blogs, wikis, lists, calendars, web pages and more that are shared by a team of people.  This team can be a department, division or just an ad-hoc group that needs to have a shared virtual workspace. This is based on Microsoft SharePoint 2010

A communications tool that lets people within your company communicate in a variety of ways: Instant Messaging (IM), Voice (PC to PC), Screen sharing, Remote Control, Video and more. This is based on Microsoft’s new offering, that replaced Microsoft Communicator, known as Microsoft Lync

You can also use the Web to create, access and edit Office documents with the new and improved Office Web Applications – Word, Excel, PowerPoint and One Note. – These are known as Office Web Apps

In addition, you can connect directly to Office 365 using Office 2007 or Office 2010.  Allowing you to use Office 365 as your storage spot for your office documents.

All the marketing hype makes this sound like this should be a terrific solution for small business.  If it lived up to the hype, it would be terrific!  While pieces of it are effective, the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts.  When the product lives up to its marketing, then they will have something.  For me, I am still waiting…

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Useful information

Newsletter:  If you are at all like me, you are looking for useful information about Microsoft Windows and Office that gets presented in a concise format in a timely fashion I highly reccommend the Windows Secrets newsletter.  Well informed and useful.  I almost always find a useful piece of information in each and every newletter I receive.  There are 2 versions.  A free version and a paid version.  Try the free version first.  If you like it, pony up a few bucks for a subscription (donation of your choice)

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