Apple and Google lifestyle I'm still very curious what powerhouse Microsoft is doing with their cloud offering. I'm a believer in the cloud, because it provides convenience in our already busy lives and I already use as much cloud services and web applications as possible. This morning I was very happy that after waiting for almost for a week I found my Office 365 beta access code. Being curious I got right into it, and I was happily surprised.
The email provided a link to get started. It opened my favorite browser (more on that later) and the sign-up process asked me only a few simple questions. Unfortunately there was an annoying captcha that I had to try at least 3 times, but after that the environment was quickly up and running. This was a great improvement on previous BPOS experiences and it's a big plus that the requirement for a spammy MS liveID has finally gone.
After the sign-up it still takes a few minutes to provision the different services, but it's an easy wait. Navigating around feels good, it feels like an integrated environment and not like the old BPOS a set of independent applications. I did run into a browser warning telling my that my favorite browser (Chrome) is not supported, but software should be like women: accept me the way I am and don't try to change me. I obviously ignored the warning and until now haven't experienced any browser related problems. It feels good and I haven't experienced any problems accept that performance could be better. Especially going to the mail (outlook) section there is a significant wait. The only nagging thing is reminders for newer SilverLight versions. I'm not a fan of SilverLight and Mac, Chrome and SilverLight aren't a great combination. I just ignore them and I don't seem to miss anything for not having SilverLight.
The overall user experience requires for someone who always hated the Outlook desktop client and never really worked with SharePoint some time to get used to. Big plus is that Office 365 doesn't open a zillion tabs in your browser and really feels like one application, but of course the load performance requirements go up when quickly switching between your email and documents. I'm not in favor of the old windows inspired popup windows that happen when you create for instance a new mail message, because they can easily disappear to the back of your window and you loose them forever. This could have done a bit more web like, but probably is just something to get used to. It also took me a while until I figured out the need to double click to open an email. I guess my almost exclusive use of web applications made me forget the double click in Windows.
Besides messaging and email it's also about document management. For people who are used to SharePoint it's probably very easy to understand, but I miss just a simple list with my documents. I probably need to configure and customize the default teamsite to bring the simplicity I like. Unfortunately the office web apps haven't improved yet compared to the current SkyDrive versions. They offer sufficient functionality for simple documents, but creating a nice presentation with a custom template is not yet possible. My search for the perfect online presentation tool still continues.
Cloud solutions have one key advantage over on premise solutions and that is the ability to have frictionless sharing and collaboration on documents. I'm used to share a document, but Office 365 uses the concept of storing a document in a shared location (the way SharePoint works). I right now can't yet over see the advantages or disadvantages over the two different methods. My first impression is that sharing a document with individuals or groups of individuals works best when there isn't a formal collaboration structure and the shared location works best in a more formal organization and collaboration structure. I'll write about this a bit more in the future.
My preliminary conclusion is pretty good. Office 365 is a solid offering and complete enough for a small business to manage their messaging and collaboration. Depending on your document and presentation feature requirements you might have to add the Office desktop client. When Office 365 matures a bit more it's absolutely a valid option for businesses to evaluate when they see the need to off load some of their IT infrastructure.
Will 'aadjemonkeyrock' move from Google Apps to Office 365? Not for now and ask me why in the comments below.