Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Microsoft Office 365 for Small Businesses - The Truth

I'm a small or micro business - it's really just me but I deal with organisations daily from tiny to huge and they could be anywhere in the world. For my kind of business, the Cloud is my friend. It allows me to leverage resources to make me play in the big league with the same tools for productivity and communication while keeping my costs sensible. If ever there was an argument for Cloud, I have it as a business.

So I have put all my applications and resources into the Cloud and I now run all the normal tools of the trade. I have an Apple MacBook Pro for my daily work running Office for Mac client, a PC still as back up, an iPad2 and an iPhone 4. With these tools I can communicate to anyone, anywhere, share documents and I can even build my website and create books and podcasts. I couldn't be more productive.

Or could I? Three months ago I bought Microsoft Office 365. Up until then I ran a hosted Exchange at Fasthosts and had Office 2007 as client on a Windows XP laptop. I changed - went Windows 7, Office 2010 and Office 365 thinking I would leverage all the new tools Microsoft gives me.

Thanks to Core GB, it took me a full day only (what??) to move from hosted Exchange to MS Office 365 and it would have cost a full day's support which would have cost over 3 times the annual cost of Office 365 licence but we scratched each other's backs. Still, it was incredibly complicated and without their help it would never have happened. Yet, all those years ago when I first had a hosted Exchange it was simple and I was up and running in no time.

Rule 1 on MS Office 365 - changing to it is incredibly time, money and support consuming. For a small or micro business, it is not an efficient use of resources for the result. Avoid it if you can.

Rule 2 on MS Office 365 - in one of the few instances I know, the ROI on changing to the Cloud actually is at best neutral but is actually far more expensive when you factor in support and…..

MS Office 365 - Glorified Email?

I bought the E3 plan (at £189 per user per annum) in the bewildering MS pricing plans which gave me MS Office 365 Exchange plus the Web Apps and an Office 2010 client. It didn't say I could install this on up to 5 devices but you can. As long as one of them isn't an Apple PC, so I had to buy Office for Mac.

I found that to communicate with a main client I needed Windows still as that client used LiveMeeting (it still hasn't moved on since the late nineties) so I resorted to buying Parallels and a Windows operating system (Microsoft would love me for full licence purchases - as a single user I have more valid copies of their software than most large Chinese companies). Then I could use LiveMeeting fine.

But MS Office 365 comes with Lync, I hear you say. Well, it does and so I tried it but it wouldn't work. Core GB told me that my old hosted service where my domain still resided, did not support some sort of SRV things so I had to change domain provider from Fasthosts. I had just bought 10 years of domain registration with them so that money was wasted immediately and I changed to Zen who only allow you to buy 1 year at a time which is very poor and risky in my book.

That done, Lync should work, right? Well I you have to become your own IT Manager and go into the System Administration in order to enable 'Federated Domains' for each user, is the first issue. Overcoming that complexity, a client asked me if I could IM him. No problem - it's called Lync now so watch this.

Nothing happened. Finally, yesterday I spoke to a lovely MS Support lady who informed me that outside my domain, federating my domain is one step. Then I have to get all my clients to federate my domain back and to do this they have to contact their System Administrator and get this done - if allowed.

The client in question is a $25bn global company and my contact laughed at the suggestion. So I have had to use Webex which costs £30+ per user per month.

Rule 3 on MS Office 365 - Lync is a total disaster and a waste of money.

But it's bundled in free, so say Microsoft. Companies who make that kind of profit, give nothing for 'free', watch my lips - I mean all those operating systems are for free, aren't they? Get real. 

The support lady, who was lovely, said that they had received many complaints as Lync was way over complicated and required support and it superseded many simple products like LiveMeeting and IM - so I can't initiate contact outside of my domain unless the recipient federates my domain which is about as likely to happen as me winning X Factor. Fine for communicating Office 365 to another 365 user, I'm told.


Ah, SharePoint. You get a server bundled in for free too - and it's worth every penny. For a small business, it's a total nightmare. I tried to use a shared workspace with a client for some large project files but sharing the link was too obvious, you have to go into the Administration site and give the person permission, then send the link. It didn't work still so we used Dropbox. Very embarrassing.

MS Support also concluded you had to know SharePoint to use it and the lovely girl had no idea yet she was MS Office 365 support. That's a clue in itself - not only as a small business do you have to be an IT manager now but a SharePoint guru too.

You get a free public website. My backside. Having downloaded SharePoint Designer, which is a beast of a program, in the vain hope I could design a new website with my own Content Management System in SharePoint, imagine my disappointment when I saw what you get. It's trivial and rubbish and can't even support a blog. Just don't go there.

The Truth About MS Office 365

The rather sinister looks you get from Microsoft executives when you quiz them on MS Office 365 suggest that if you think that Microsoft has got it wrong then you and your family may get a visitation in the dead of night. They really don't like criticism is the first thing, the second is that they are sure that I will come round to their way of thinking because there is no credible alternative. It's a Microsoft world out there.

It is and I feared being an island of incompatibility if I went with Google Apps for Business. But let's face it MS Office 365 for small businesses is absolute rubbish. I can't put it any nicer.

If this is the best a mega company can do then they really ought not to even try - it's a shameful attempt.

The reality is that they are trying to shoehorn big products into the Cloud and into little businesses. The cost is high and the support burden is horrendous. They lob in two unusable extra products so you think you are getting something worthwhile whereas you are paying the salaries of some programmers who would otherwise be out of work in the Lync and SharePoint departments.

This makes MS Office 365 both over priced and bad value. Take note.

Second, it is just a glorified email package in the end and these are two a penny in the industry. Hosted Exchange is a far better, more reliable way of doing things for small businesses and it's cheaper and requires little or no support.

The web apps are useless as you are driven toward client applications so when would you use the apps?? And they work poorly on devices other than PCs like iPads and don't even try smartphones. Hosted Exchange and webmail  far simpler.


I like Office for Mac so it pains me to say this but MS Office 365 for small and micro businesses is a complete waste of money. It's insulting to call this a Cloud application and Microsoft have done nothing to make this a good or simple experience for users let alone design it for the needs of the SME. This is Microsoft designing for Microsoft.

Traditional software vendors have a major problem. How do they get into this Cloud thing without blowing their own foot off? Can they shoehorn in old, staid products tuned for corporate networks or do they have to start again?

Well the answer is that the Cloud has stoked up the creativity and innovation out there and the new products are sassy, clever and tuned to the needs of people like me and small businesses. And it's fun to use them - even accounting is fun with Xero and SageOne - trying saying that with a straight face.

Microsoft is far, far from getting anywhere near understanding the Cloud with MS Office 365 - it's so bad that it's hard to find something positive to say. Why have they got it so badly wrong? Fear of cannibalisation is probably the major factor - after all I was an MS user before so the net new revenue to MS by me converting to MS Office 365 was zero. But I am not with Google - yet. And that would have meant a loss.

That's the danger here for Microsoft. It's better to eat your own tail than allow Google to do so.

Microsoft need to go back to the drawing board and use all that resource and brain power to design something for the Cloud that is useful and cost effective, support free for small businesses. The clock is ticking here - users like me won't put up with this much longer as there is a whole world of innovative choice out there to make being with the luddite chumps a very dumb thing to do.

Rule 4 - if you are a micro or small business, at minimum delay buying MS Office 365. At maximum, don't buy it. It's a waste of money.

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