Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Microsoft Office 365 Under the Cosh

I have been a bit negative about Microsoft lately, particularly when it comes to their strategy concerning channel and their Cloud version of their productivity products, MS Office 365.

So let's take a look at the Cloud based product itself - Microsoft 365. For those who have read my blog, I also looked at Google Apps which I trialled the free version of. This allows up to 10 users at no cost - and I am not entirely clear at this stage what is the difference between the free version and the Business grade version for $50/user/year.

MS 365 was easy to start up with. The Microsoft website is clear and easy so within minutes I had been set up a trial thanks to following the link in an email sent by my 'Reseller of Record', Core GB. Any resultant sale will now be attributed to Core and it was thanks to the young Irish fellow I met at the Cloud Forum.

The start point on MS 365 is a Home page as you would expect. Here you are invited to set up your computer to work with Office 365. Already you have been allocated a dummy domain based on what your company name is which gives you a temporary email address. To import your contacts it is easy. Just export your current MS Office contacts to a CSV file and follow the import instructions. There is a decent user guide. 365 Outlook gives you are very washed out appearance and you have to work hard to decide what is what. Best to send an email to see how it looks I advise then it becomes apparent there is an email inbox with a viewing panel which wasn't obvious to start with.

Then you get Lync which is a program you have to install. This allows peer to peer communication and mini-conference calls. I haven't used it yet but it reminds me of Skype with Webex features - that could be very handy.

Then there is the 'Team Site' which is in fact a hosted SharePoint. This allows multiple people to work on the same document. People can check in and check out documents and it appears to even have a workflow and approval paths. Overkill for me but really useful for a small business working on bids or something. Remember, the Team Site is the communal area for file storage.
I clicked the Word document creator and it was easy. Just enter a document name and you have a browser based Word facility. Yesterday afternoon when I signed up for this, I found the program slow but this morning at 7.00am it seems quicker - rocket scientists will know the answer. So I can create Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote files as a minimum. I can even 'Open in Word'. Now I assume this feature only works if I am running a local copy of Word or the upgraded version of 365 - I need to ask Core as it is unclear. Would I need to buy a local copy as well, some might ask? Of course, I have Office 2007 on my machine already and I was expecting to cut the umbilical chord to this. I will find out later.

Once you have created, edited and completed your document, you will have noticed that there is no 'Save' button. Auto save is constantly saving the document, just like Apple iPad. You can 'Save As' on your Team Site where the files are visible. At any time, you can follow they link top left to navigate around your site.

At the Team Site you have an internal 'Twitter' type feature to let everyone in your team know what you are doing - bit like's Chatter. You can share the site with additional people. You can even 'Publish' a document dependent on your user settings - this reminds me of Evernote where I can write a note and then publish it as a link for people to read as it is hosted in the ether - almost as a blog article but brilliant for team working. Microsoft have now included this and we are beginning to see their thinking. And it's not bad.

Like Google, once I am looking at the files I have created in the Team Site repository, I can create Folders but I haven't worked out how to drag and drop files into the Folders yet - it appears you can't. That's odd. You can download copies of files to your TeamSite and upload files to your machine or send them to - all very easily. You can easily edit properties which is so imbedded in Office usually that I never do it - this is neat in 365. You can add new TeamSite pages so it works as if you have a website - which it is.

Like Google Apps, there is also a free associated website. It looks very simple and clean. It also looks easy to edit and keep up to date which is better than my current one where I have to submit changes to a third party. Guess what? I don't bother and so my website has remained static for over two years - a carnal sin in online marketing but usual for small businesses. This means I might get back into changing things and I have been toying moving to WordPress to make things easier. However, like Google, the website is very limited.

There is an easy wizard on how to set up emails on your mobile phone and most operating systems are included. That's very good as Google have it easy on Android! There is an easy Admin site to add users or change permissions and passwords - you can become the IT manager for your business from one simple window and manage all those fools who forget their passwords. Now they ring you instead of a help desk. You can set permissions on documents, settings on Lync and set up dial-in conferencing for which I am sure there will be a charge? Yes, it gives you a list of providers but at least that's helpful.

This version of MS 365 costs £4/user/month at tiny business entry level, or £6.50 for an SME and it compares well to the free one from Google. Here's the interesting bit. Access MS 365 on your iPad or tablet and you get a Lite version of Outlook which is basically webmail but tuned for the tablet. It's actually really good until you realise it is webmail so you have less features. This was so close to being better than Google and it's a shame Microsoft went so far and then held back. It is even called Web App instead of 365 to confuse you more. The rest of the TeamSite remains the same and no tweaks are needed. Microsoft have got it - the web is the platform not the device. Well, almost.

So I am not sure what I would need to add to this basic version to give me what I have today - MS Office Pro on my laptop and a hosted Exchange at Fasthosts which costs a further £90/user/year. From Frank Bennett and Dan Lewis' excellent booking on selling MS 365, it appears I will fall into 'E2' which is around £10.50/user/month (according to Insight UK's site) - there're around 10 price points and two tiers versus one price from Google.

That's pricey. Very pricey.

I paid some £400 or so I think for MS Office 2007 some 5.5 years ago and have paid around £90/year for hosted Exchange. I have not upgraded in that time. To upgrade to Office 2010 it's over £300 plus $189 for a Windows 7 upgrade. To buy the same MS 365 it's £10.50/user/month or £126/user/year. Google Apps, full version, is $50/user/year. There is a huge justification for Microsoft SMEs to go MS 365 based on cost savings on price per user and upgrades (assuming Microsoft don't charge for upgrades which is unclear as yet) based on these numbers as being a slave to Microsoft is actually very expensive if you want to remain current. E3 gives a virtual PBX as well for £15.75/user/month.

There is familiarity in Microsoft and there is a comfort in using what you know, although I think there are significant differences in the old vs the new to warrant a long, hard look at Google Apps for usability. But in pure money terms, if I am to scale this up in an organisation, this is mighty costly versus Google Apps. Mighty costly.

There were lots of nice things in MS 365 but there are a ton of nice things in Google Apps. Face to face, on cost, I would have to go Google Apps. The price difference is around 3:1.

That's too much for an SME to swallow and justify.

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