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February 15, 2006

What's wrong with Office Live

Posted 3232 days ago on February 15, 2006

Microsoft has posted the Office Live specs. It appears that there are two aspects to the service. The first is Internet and email. We've seen all this before, except that you can now have your own domain name. Quite a big deal, which is no doubt why Google will offer the same thing for GMail. Not clear exactly what the offline story is, but the feature list says obscurely that:

Office Live Mail is DAV-enabled, which allows you to access Microsoft Outlook Express or Microsoft Office Outlook from within Office Live Mail.

Sounds back-to-front; maybe a beta user can explain this to me? The ability to access your email archive offline is a key feature for many users.

The second piece is Office Live Collaboration. This is more interesting and includes shared calendar, employee directory, project manager, and the ability to store and share documents.

This forms the three products on offer: Web-only for free; Collaboration at a cost, or both services presumably for a higher cost.

Something which makes no sense at all: you get a decent 2GB storage per email account (for emails that is), and a tiny 50MB for your "shared sites", which I presume means all the shared documents and collaboration features. You can buy more space in 50MB chunks, but this is hopeless: someone is thinking far too small. It does mean, sadly, that SBS is safe for now.

In my experience, there are a few key features which push small businesses into running a server. They want shared internet access; they want to manage email; they want to share documents (with some degree of access control); and they want to back up their data. Once they discover remote access (via VPN or Outlook Web Access) that becomes a key feature too. SBS handles all this nicely, but unfortunately it often gets broken to some degree. From what I've seen, backup is often a struggle, security is sometimes lax, and from time to time something breaks and can be hard to fix. For example, perhaps the anti-virus software goes wild and consumes all the CPU and all the disk space. Or a hard drive fails and the RAID doesn't work as expected. Or whatever. Talk to some small businesses: I think you will find considerable enthusiasm for a solution that solves the management and backup issues of running a server when you have not got an IT department.

Here's what I would do with Office Live. First, increase the silly 50MB shared storage space to 10GB or more, so that the small biz can manage all its documents there.

Second, do some smart thinking about a local caching and synchronization server. This would replace SBS with a box that would transparently synch its contents with the Office Live server, giving the performance of a LAN without losing the benefits of a hosted service.

Third, I'd have that box run Active Directory, again linked with the Office Live service, so it can act as a domain controller. If there is a fire in the night, simply replace the box and have it pull all its data back from the online source.

Too difficult?

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