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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