Office 365 – What a disappointment


With the facilities of Office, Exchange, SharePoint and Live Meeting (dressed up as Lync) what could possibly go wrong? Well having Microsoft product managers involved for a start. This is a product that offers so much potential but is, in my view, fatally flawed by Microsoft’s heavy handed approach: my way or the high way. OK, I’ll take the highway – and unless you are a very small company with little exposure to the internet I’d recommend you take the highway too.

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. No more need for GotoMeeting and with PowerPoint and Excel baked-in so what’s not to like?

Unfortunately, lots.

The service is in beta so maybe things will change but I’d guess not because much of the tooling around it’s release will already be in place. For example, the pricing plans (1-4) and related functionality are aleady on the Office 365 web site. The beta is of the second-highest plan and presumably Microsoft think this will give users a representative feel of all the functionality.

So where does it go wrong?

The ‘S’ in SME stands for ‘small’ not stupid but you wouldn’t know it judging from Office 365. Now we’re a small company but we’re not new and I like to think we’re not stupid. We have systems in-place. We have a PBX (VoIP – based on Asterisk), a web site, a robust email service and, importantly, we use our DNS servers to facilitate services we consume and provide. Now a two person company might not have some of these things but a small company with even a few employees will have all the services they need already in place. They may not be ideal, they may be distributed across multiple suppliers but they will be there. However Office 365 insists you go lock, stock and barrel with Office 365.

NOTE: there will be people – especially Microsoft marketing types- who will use a comment like the “lock, stock and barrel” statement and use it to refute all these comments so let me be clear.

DNS

You *can* sign up and use Office 365 and work with it straight away – but only in a limited capacity. Want to use the web site feature? Because there’s no fixed IP address this is only practical if you move your domain name server to Office 365 (otherwise your main web site would be a CNAME to the Office 365 site and do you really want to rely on Google’s ranking algorithm making a hash of that?). Want to use the email service from Outlook? Only if you use a different profile which means you can’t use your existing email services. Want to use the screen sharing feature? Only if your Outlook is logged into your Office 365 account which means setting up that new profile.

So to make use of Office 365 it’s all in or, effectively, nothing because you really need to move your domain name server to Microsoft. But they don’t give you the tools to manage your DNS entries properly. Sure, you can create a new A record or a new CNAME record. But what if an application you use needs an SRV record? Or if you want to create a TXT record so you can DKIM sign bulk emails sent by the marketing department? Tough.

DNS is fundamental to the correct functioning of a company’s operations on the internet today but the tools provided by Office 356 are shameful and not ones I think any company should be forced to rely. Microsoft has no experience offering retail DNS services customers and its not clear how reliable Microsoft’s services really are going to be (and DNS *must* be reliable)?

PBX integration

What if you want to integrate Office 365 with your your VoIP system? Tough. What was especially laughable was the integration with landline phones. We’re UK based but most of our clients are in the US. So we want landline numbers in the UK and US. But because our snail mail address is in the UK we are offered BT (incorrectly called British Telecom – it’s 1980’s name) the MOST expensive landline supplier in the UK. NO! I want to use the telecoms supplier of MY choice. Not the supplier of Microsoft’s choice.

Data protection

When I signed up I was not given any indication of where my email and other documents or the records on my web site might be stored. This has real legal implications for companies that need to consider the accessibility of their information and the location of any records stored on behalf of clients. Perhaps because I signed up with a UK address this information will be in the UK but I don’t know for sure because I’m not informed (I couldn’t find the information in the admin section of the Office 365 site).

IP address

What about the web site? Most of our clients and prospects are in the US so I want our internet presence to US oriented. It turns out the web site is hosted on 213.199.182.200 which is an address of Microsoft’s Dublin data center. That’s a location that’s neither in the UK or the US so when Google is considering the geographical location of the site based on the IP address it does not appear to be in any location I’m interested in.

No lipstick on this pig

If Microsoft we’re leading the charge this arrogant, heavy-handed approach may be justified but, as ever, they’re not. Organizations of all sizes have systems, applications and processes in place and need to be able to migrate in a measured way. That is, an offering like Office 365 needs to offer integration with existing systems – by supporting open standards – or it’s only market is… well I don’t know what it’s market is. It’s like Microsoft believe companies have not moved on in the last decade.

So as with so many things (phones, tablets, cloud computing to name a few) Microsoft has it wrong – again. Microsoft makes a shed load of money from Windows and Office and maybe a bit from Xbox and the development tools. But it seems to me that *everything else* is a category loser and/or actually losing money. Think of Bing(*), Windows Phone 7, Azure. Now add Office 365 – at least in it’s current livery – to the loser list.

Microsoft is a big company. It has to balance the needs of it’s stakeholders when designing an application and therein lies the problem with Office 365. I seems to me the stakeholder with no voice is the prospective user. It seems to me the Office, Live Meeting, SharePoint and other Microsoft groups are concerned about cannibalized sales and as a consequence Microsoft has ended up putting out a pig and didn’t even bother with the lipstick.

What a disappointment.

(*) I read a report that Microsoft ar claim revenue growth for Bing but I didn’t see any profitability assessment of this service.

Update

I’m trying to persevere with Office 365 but it’s continuing to disappoint. 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.

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?

Now you might say “Well, 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.

I think it’s easy to see why this is happening. Microsoft are trying to use it as a service to make money from, or make it attactive to, the existing big boys. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. It feels to me like a cheap and nasty way for one big company to try and cover as big a playing field as possible as cheaply as possible by outsourcing to other big companies. Any chance my lone voice would get lost in that bureaucracy when stuff goes wrong?

Something continues to be seriously wrong at Microsoft. Time to sell the Microsoft stock. Oh, that’s right, I did that a long time ago. Phew.

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Reader Comments

Not so sure I agree with you on the DNS part being crucial to small business but I suppose it depends on how small you mean? For a typical SME, hsoting and confguring your DNS and PBX is probably beyond them – let alone DKIM signatures.
Those points aside however, a good article and one which I totally agree with (bar the above of course) 😉

Any small company with a web site will have had to mess with DNS. The task may have been pushed to a third party responsible for the web site but it will have been done. Every small company will have a PBX of some sort – perhap outsourced to a telecoms firm.

If they have a Windows domain on their network they will use DNS because Windows domains absolutely rely on DNS. The whole of Active Directory is predicated on DNS and its availability is so critical it is item one or two on the domain setup check list.

If they are bulk mailing they probably are signing their outbound mail – maybe they are unaware of the implications because it’s taken care of by a third party.

The requirement of Office 365 (as I have used it so far) invalidates all these bits of ‘stuff’ a company has going on.

Updated:

But let’s say I take your point that DNS is not important to some small company today. It may become important to them tomorrow (DNS is *everything* to the Internet) and if it does, that company has nowhere to go because the DNS tools are inadequate.

I am a small business IT Consultant in Australia. I am presently a Microsoft BPOS Partner with approximately 10 clients using BPOS

While most of my clients would not care if their Name Server were delegate to Microsoft I do! It seems an unnecessary requirement if all the client wants to do is host their email with Microsoft.

I hope this is JUST a BETA thing!

Perhaps if all a user wants is email, Office 365 will be satisfactory – but then they have many alternative solutions.

It’s not just about DNS though the requirement and limited support for DNS is problem for us.

To us the attraction of Office 365 to us is the potential of the whole package: email, collaboration, web conferencing, web site.

To use all these services it seems to be a requirement that we move DNS hosting (or, for example, risk our Google rankings).

However, and for example, to use the web conference it is necessary to create new Outlook profile (it’s right there on the Office 365 site) which, in our case, means we cannot use our existing mail services.

Perhaps this will not affect/be an
issue for your clients.

My point is that we don’t understand most of the choices which have been made and they seem to ne to be unnecessarily clumsy

NAIL ON THE HEAD BLOG POST
Why does Microsoft continuously make people jump through hoops. So many “more” people would come on board if the could just get it right.

Agree to an extent. DNS is really not much of an issue, I’m not sure I would base that on the issues with this service.

We did a hybrid/coexistence setup (migrated 350 mailboxes) and there are so many issues regarding broken email migration, calendar sharing, distribution list permission, limited shared mailbox functionality, etc.. I could write a book.

I might recommend it for an extremely small company who doesn’t mind having seperate accounts/passwords just for their service, but when you start getting into the horrible SSO/DirSync issues its clear their service is not yet ready for the enterprise.

Thanks for your comments. Please don’t recommend it to a small company. We are a small company and found it too terrible to be true. You’d never forgive yourself.