Office 365 is best
We think Office 365 is best for several of the solutions it offers when compared to various other solutions. Of course this is just our opinion and is based on our experiences of software, companies and customers.
Email started with basic POP and then IMAP type mailboxes. Moving from ‘just email’ to ‘groupware’ is where Exchange and the Outlook client came in. Initially Exchange was an on-premise solution, intrinsically linked in with Windows Servers and the user logins for a single-identity login to both the network and the email system.
Fast forward about 10 years, and POP and IMAP are still popular with users, but start to show their limitations as multi-device, especially mobile-based email access, becomes more popular. The full sync-capabilities of Groupware solutions like Microsoft Exchange come into their own as a far superior solution.
Initially it seemed that Microsoft waited out the first wave of hosted Exchange solutions, allowing their ‘managed solution providers’ to work out what the challenges were going to be with offering hosted Exchange mailboxes that were not linked to the customer’s Windows network. Then they took all of the problems, solved them, and then sold the solution themselves, undercutting their resellers retail pricing and giving 10 times as much storage than other companies do. Actually Microsoft WERE selling solutions before 365 under a different name (BPOS), but they weren’t really pushing it as a universally suitable solution; it was more aimed at larger businesses.
Best for the customer
Business-wise the way they went about pricing and advertising the retail product is a bit underhand but from a customer perspective, they offer a more ‘grown up’ version of the solution. I won’t go into the technical details but they have integration and migration options that I don’t believe anyone else offers, and admin features that nobody else offers – a lot of it is the economies of scale they are working on globally compared to the regional areas most other hosting companies work to.
The only big thing I was disappointed with 365 is that they quickly upgraded all of the Exchange servers to 2013, meaning you can no longer use anything older then Outlook 2007 to connect, and this has caused some difficulties for some clients. This isn’t exclusively a 365 problem, but there are other suppliers still offering Exchange 2010 platforms which maintains compatibility with all outlook versions.
Software as a Service
The concept of software as a service isn’t a new one, but with the introduction of Office 365 Microsoft introduced the option to rent the MS Office Suite of software on a monthly basis rather than purchasing it new with a new PC, which nobody else was able to provide at that time (I don’t know if anyone else does even now). OK you have to pay extra for it, but it’s been a good option for a lot of people.
Office 365 Defined
Office 365 is a brand-name umbrella used as a marketing platform for a number of discrete and inter-linked products and services provided by Microsoft. These include, but are not limited to;
- Hosted Exchange email mailbox (including calendar, contacts, notes and tasks), including anti-virus and anti-spam protection
- Hosted Exchange mailbox archive
- Onedrive online personal storage space, including Office Web-apps for editing documents in a browser
- Onedrive for Business shared Sharepoint storage space, including Office Web-apps also
- Software-as-a-service rental of Microsoft Office Professional Plus software to run on your PC (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, Access, Publisher, OneNote), and other software (Notably Microsoft Project)
- Access to the Android and iOS based versions of Microsoft Office
In terms of the service, they seem to have got it sorted; I think the only thing I’d change is that the telephone support can be a little bit ‘difficult’ but the online and community support is superb so it isn’t often you need to use the telephone support. The anti-spam policies seem to be pretty good both for incoming and outgoing, and you’ve got the power of one of the richest companies on the planet behind you if things go sideways. They are forward about the fact they have a financially-backed guarantee about data loss, which adds peace of mind about safety of your data.
Not quite universal
There are a couple of options missing here and there, and there are a few situations where 365 isn’t suitable, but the withdrawal of the SBS product line and price-increases for Exchange licensing has made 365 a much more economic solution for a lot of people. They have a POP3-only mailbox option called a Kiosk plan, but it is severely limited.
Some of the administration that you used to be able to do via a GUI now has to be completed via a complex command-line.
Finally, as mentioned earlier, there is certain functionality that is limited or unavailable depending on the setup and the plan you use.
In summary, Microsoft have taken one of their best technologies which was originally aimed at the biggest companies to install and maintain themselves, and have turned it upside down by providing it to anyone from a one-man-band upwards, without any self-maintenance required.
Lansalot are a Microsoft Partner and are able to advise and assist on Office 365 setups and migrations.