Tag Archives: google apps

Hands on with Office 365 – great service, some hassles

I have been trying Microsoft’s Office 365 which has recently gone into public beta, and is expected to go live later this year.

This cloud service provides Exchange 2010, SharePoint 2010 with Office Web Apps, and Lync Server to provide a complete collaboration service for organisations who prefer not to run these servers themselves – which is understandable give their cost and complexity.

Trying the beta is a little complex when you already have a working email and collaboration infrastructure. I chose to use a virtual machine running Windows 7 Professional. I also pre-installed Office 2010 Professional in an attempt to get the best experience.

Initial sign-up is easy and I was soon online looking at the admin screen. I could also sign into Outlook Web Access and view my SharePoint site.


Hassles started when I clicked to setup up desktop applications. This is done by a helper application which configures and updates Outlook, SharePoint and Lync on your desktop PC. At this point I had not configured my own domain; I was simply username@username.onmicrosoft.com.


The wizard successfully configured SharePoint and Lync, but not Outlook.


There was a “Learn more” link; but I was in a maze of twisty passages, all alike, none of which seemed to lead to the information I needed.

Part of the problem – and I have noticed this with BPOS as well – is that the style of the online help is masterful at telling you things you know already, while neglecting to tell you what you need to know. It also has a patronising style that I find infuriating, and a habit of showing you marketing videos at every opportunity.

I did eventually find instructions for configuring Outlook manually for Office 365, but they did not work. I also noticed discrepancies in the instructions. For example, this document says that the Exchange server is ch1prd0201.mailbox.outlook.com and that the proxy server for Outlook over HTTP is pod51004.outlook.com. That did not match with the server given in my online account for IMAP, POP3 and SMTP use, which was a different podnnnnn.outlook.com. I tried all sorts of combinations and none worked.

Eventually I found this comment in another help document:

Currently, the only supported scenario for configuring Outlook to work with Office 365 is a fully migrated environment.

I am not sure if this is true, but it did seem to explain my problems. Of course it would be easy for Microsoft to surface this information in a more obvious place, such as building it into the setup wizard. Anyway, I decided to go for the full Office 365 experience and to set up a domain.

Fortunately I have a domain which I obtained for a bright idea that I have yet to find time for. I added it to Office 365. This is a process which involves first adding a CNAME record to the DNS in order to prove ownership, and then making Office 365 the authoritative nameserver for the domain. I was not impressed by the process, because when Microsoft took over the nameserver role it threw away existing settings. This means that if you have a web site or blog at that domain, for example, it will disappear from the internet after the transfer. Once transferred, you can reinstate custom records.

Still, I had chosen an unused domain so that I did not care about this. I set up a new user with an email address at the new domain, and I amended the default SharePoint web site address to use the domain as well.


That all worked fine; but what about Outlook? The bad news was that the setup wizard still failed to configure Outlook, and I still did not know the correct server settings.

I could have contacted support; but I had one last try. I went into the mail applet in control panel and deleted the Outlook profile, so Outlook had no profile at all. Then I ran Outlook, went through the setup wizard, and it all worked, using autodiscover. Out of interest, I then checked the server settings that the wizard had found, which were indeed different in every case from those in the various help documents I had seen.

A few hassles then, and I am not happy with the way this stuff is documented, but nevertheless it all looks good once set up. The latest Exchange and SharePoint does make a capable collaboration platform, the storage limits are generous – up to 25GB per Exchange mailbox – and I think it makes a lot of sense. I expect Microsoft’s online services to win huge amounts of business that is currently going to Small Business Server, and some business from larger organisations too. Migration from existing Microsoft-platform servers should be smooth.

The biggest disappointment so far is that in Lync online the Enterprise Voice feature is disabled. This means no general-purpose voice over IP, though you can call PC to PC. To get this you have to install Lync on-premise:

Organizations that want to leverage the full benefits of Microsoft Unified Communications can purchase and deploy Microsoft Lync Server 2010 on their premises as part of Microsoft Office 365. Lync Server 2010 on-premises delivers full enterprise voice and premises-based, dial-in audio conferencing, enabling customers to reduce costs and increase productivity by replacing or enhancing traditional PBX systems.

though it is confusing since Enterprise Voice is listed as a feature of the high-end E4 edition; I believe this implies an on-premise server alongside Office 365 in the cloud.

Perhaps the biggest question is the unknown: will Office 365 live up to its promised 99.9% scheduled uptime SLA, and how will its reliability compare to that of Google Apps?

Office 365 is priced at $10 per user per month for the basic service (E1), $16 to add Office Web Apps (E2), $24.00 to add licenses for Office Professional, archiving for Exchange (E3) and voicemail, and $27.00 to add Enterprise Voice (E4). The version in beta is E3.

The future of Google Apps: social features, high performance spreadsheets, working offline

Yesterday I spoke to Google’s Global Product Management Director for Google Enterprise (whew!) Matthew Glotzbach, at a press briefing for Google Apps which included the announcement of Google Docs Discussions, as covered here.


One of the issues discussed in the briefing was Cloud Connect, which I reported on here. Cloud Connect automatically copies and synchronises Microsoft Office documents with Google’s cloud storage. There are some performance and usability issues, but the biggest problem is that you cannot edit the documents in the browser; or rather, if you do, Google makes a second copy leading to versioning issues.

Google says this is a file format issue. The online Google Docs applications cannot edit documents in Microsoft Office formats – “the document models are completely different” says Glotzbach – though it can import and export those formats. Could Google develop the ability to edit Office documents online? “It is a technical challenge, something we haven’t built yet,” he added.

It is an interesting point. Microsoft’s Office Web Apps have flaws, but they do let you maintain the same document whether edited in the browser or in the Office desktop applications. It is an example of friction if you try to live partly in Microsoft Office, and partly in Google’s cloud. It may be better to stick with one or the other.

What about offline capability, something I hear a lot as counting against Google Docs. Google had a solution for this based on its Gears add-on, but then withdrew it.

We are actively working on offline. It is extremely important. Gears was a precursor. A lot of the ideas embedded in Gears have become part of HTML5.

says Glotzbach. I asked whether this will extend to the Chrome OS netbook operating system, and he said that it will:

Chrome, as the most modern browser based on HTML 5, has the capabilities built into its core. Chrome OS as a derivative of that has those offline capabilities baked into it, so it is a matter of having applications take advantage of that.

We also talked about the new discussions feature. I observed that it seems to be just one part of a bigger story. What about discussions spanning multiple documents? What about discussions without documents? Is there any way of doing that?

“Yes, email,” he said, chuckling. Clearly Google has taken to heart that email remains the de facto mechanism for most corporate collaboration. “We’ve also got Google groups. Obviously the manifestation of a group for many users is email, that’s how they interact with it, but there is also a destination site or page for that group.”

Might Google develop its own equivalent to Salesforce.com Chatter, for Twitter-like enterprise messaging?

The idea of eventually being able to pull in other streams, the idea of social media inside the enterprise Is a powerful idea. I think Chatter is a good example of that, and others such as Yammer. I think those ideas will likely find their way into businesses. It is not clear to me that social will be a destination within an Enterprise. Rather I see it as, features will emerge in various products that leverage those social capabilities. Discussions is influenced heavily by a lot of those social media ideas, and so you can see that evolving into more integrated social capabilities across the app suite.

What about Google spreadsheets, which seem great for simple tasks and collaboration, but suffer performance and scalability issues when used with large data collections that work fine in Excel?

There’s always work to do. We have today some limitations in terms of spreadsheet size. Those are things we are actively working on. With browser technologies I actually think we have an advantage over desktop applications. If I told you I had a spreadsheet that had 5 million columns and a billion rows, there’s no desktop spreadsheet in the world that can handle that kind of volume, but because we have in essence supercomputers on the back end processing that, what you display is just a window of that large data. So we’re using clever technologies like pre-fetching the rows and columns that are just off the edge of the page, similar to some of the technologies we use with Google Maps.

But it’s an example where we have some artificial limitations that we are working to remove. Imagine doing really sophisticated non-linear calculations in a spreadsheet. We’ve got a supercomputer on the back end that can do that for you in seconds.