Office 365: a first test drive

Following a recent Any Answers query asking for more information about Office 365, John Stokdyk bit the bullet and dived into the beta-test version.

Microsoft Office 365 is an evolution of Office 2010 Web Apps that makes four key Office products available via the net: Excel, Word, PowerPoint and OneNote, plus access to the Microsoft SharePoint web portal system and Exchange.

Where Office Live was more of a personal Cloud that gave you access to the Office tools, Office 365 is a corporate environment that, within the beta system at least, will let you cater for and collaborate with up to 25 colleagues.

 

The Exchange option is particularly interesting if you’re a small company using a standard POP internet service. Exchange gives you the ability to administer and archive all company email in one place and to synchronise diaries and tasks between team members. This is a boon if you haven’t got it, but will require much more careful management if you’ve already made the move to Microsoft Exchange, but want to link into Office 365 too. For example, will you have to decide which acts as the “master” system, and which the slave that synchs into it?

 

With so many facilities on offer, Office 365 looks like it might be capable of supporting an entire company’s administrative technology needs. However, our IT support crew might get a little touchy about some of the things it lets you do. For their sake, I won’t try to take over administration of our email system. Instead this introductory article will explore what exactly is available and how it works during the initial encounters to give members an idea about whether it’s worth exploring for their own uses.

More coverage on detailed projects and processes you can achieve with Office 365 will follow in the coming months.

As I mentioned to FirstTab, we’ve been keeping a close eye on WindowsLive developments in recent years. But I came up against a technical roadblock in WindowsLive when I tried to share my hefty Fantasy Football player analyser with colleagues; it was too big to display in a browser Window.

The big test for Office 365 would be to see whether it could cope with this real-world scenario, and if it could support cross-platform access from my partner’s Mac, or from BlackBerry and iPhone devices. It was brilliant to be able to log in from a Mac (using Apple's Safari browser, even) and create a Word document. Unfortunately, when it came to the 33Mb football KPI dashboard, the Office 365 Web App was just as uncomfortable handling it as Office Live.

My first encounter was fraught with a few other frustrations. After going through all the hoops to get a WindowsLive ID and access Windows Office Live in the past, the universal passport doesn’t work with the Office 365, so there’s a new ID and password to remember, plus a new domain the system creates for you @onmicrosoft.com.

What it offers

  • Home: a base for uploading and sharing documents with up to 25 colleagues; this page is also where they will need to connect their desktop apps to Office 365.
  • Access to Office Web Apps, including Outlook to manage your email and calendar.
  • Team Site: a website hosted by Microsoft SharePoint, but incorporating similar design and management tools as the Windows Live web-hosting service.
  • Lync Online, a unified communciations environment that lets you send and receive instant messages (IM), run peer-to-peer audio and video sessions, and display presence information about team members.
  • Admin section: for adding and managing users, and accessing Microsoft support resources when you need them.

The Web Apps have fewer menu tabs and options tha the usual desktop Office programs. Excel just has File, Home, and Insert tabs, so there is no access to pivot table tools or macros. If you want full access, there is an "Open in Office" option for each application.

Find out more about Office 365 yourself - sign up for the beta test version here.

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Comments

A disappointment

bseddon | | Permalink

 

I've been keen to try Office 365 since it was announced. BPOS was just too simple minded but, I assumed, Microsoft would have learned bundles from BPOS and would be able to marry that experience with their experience with Live Meeting to create a fantastic product for collaboration with clients.  But from my point of view it's a real disappointment.

If you have an existing Exchange installation and use Outlook you can't just use the mail service.  You have to create a new profile.  So you get either your old email or your new emails, not both - unless you want to treat it like a POP account but then why not use a free one?

However to use the collaboration stuff, you have to create a new profile (so none of your existing mail. The collaboration stuff is an Outlook addin and to use it Outlook must be logged into the remote server and to do this you need a new profile.

One of the things I've tried to find is how to configure a Catch All folder. Senders occasionally mis-type an address but it's still great to be able to collect and route to the right person and catch all folders make that happen. Every email service has a catch all facility right? Even the most basic email service from your ISP will have a catch all facility. But not Office 365.

OK, what about that Lync phone support?  Lync includes VoIP and a VoIP client.  However to make calls to landlines and mobiles your options are to sign up with "British Telecom" (isn't that the 1980's name?) or PGi(?).  No choice to use a low cost carrier, no option to use an end point in another country (we only make calls in the UK right?).

If I were to use this application it would be important that I can use my phone. But right on the page where I should be able to configure my phone it offers only Apple, Rim and, of course, the market leading Windows Phone 7.

OK, well, maybe they've just not had time to fix the page as Android support must be there, because according to the reviews I've read for example this Android has the largest market share. So I try the Mobile Phone Wizard (and bear in mind my comments above about the landline selections) and I'm asked to select from AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile (does T-Mobile still exist?). So I can only get a landline in the UK even though I should be able to get one anywhere in the world but I can only setup mobile phone support in the US while my phone has to be with me in the UK?

There's much more but I'm sure you are bored so I'll finish with the observation that "this is just a beta". Perhaps. If this were an offering from a start up then OK. But if Google and Citrix can do a competent job at this kind of stuff, we have a right to expect MUCH BETTER from the largest software company in the world. And they should expect better of themselves

 

John Stokdyk's picture

Thanks for the comments - really interesting

John Stokdyk | | Permalink

The second Exchange instance was something that our IT chief mentioned to me after I wrote this initial piece, so thanks for explaining it in more detail. There's a lot to chew on in Office 365 - I've been tinkering with it on and off during the past week and so have some of the members of our Cloud Computing discussion group.

There are some very illuminating comments from software developers including "Kryton" from selestial.com and guyletts, a former R&D director at Sage UK.

Give me a few more days and I'll compile the feedback into a follow-up article.

 

Security

petergardner | | Permalink

What are your views as to the security of the data?

Where is the data held, I am concerned as to whether there are any data protection issues.