Why the Office 365 beta is worth testing

Why the Office 365 beta is worth testing

Summary: I'm not reviewing the Office 365 beta this week. I haven’t banged on it enough to form a complete opinion yet. But Microsoft’s soon-to-be-released cloud services are incredibly promising. If your business runs on Microsoft Office, you owe it to yourself to do some serious testing.


It’s hard to review any e-mail or productivity platform without actually using it. And by “using it,” I don’t mean “installing some beta code and banging on it for a few hours.” I mean using it, day in and day out, in a production environment, duplicating the volume and type of work you normally do.

That explains why I’m not reviewing Office 365 this week, despite the fact that I’ve had access to an account for several months, including a one-week head start on the rest of the population for the just-released beta. By my own definition, I haven’t banged on it enough to give you an honest buy/don’t buy decision.

But I can tell you—enthusiastically and without reservation—that Microsoft’s soon-to-be-released cloud services are incredibly promising. If your business runs on Microsoft Office, you owe it to yourself to do some serious testing in your own environment. That goes double if you currently have a Microsoft Exchange server on your premises.

My colleague Zack Whittaker has already put together a series of screenshot galleries showing off some of the key features of Office 365. The short version is that for a monthly subscription price of $6, a small business can have full access to Exchange (e-mail/calendar/contacts), SharePoint (document sharing and collaboration), and Lync (messaging and online meetings)—with Office Web Apps thrown into the picture. For higher monthly fees, enterprises can get more full-featured packages that includes the latest version of Microsoft Office.

Why is it a big deal—and why do I prefer this type of solution to Google Apps?

Here are four reasons in addition to what I consider a very fair price:

  • Great online/offline support. I’ve been using a hosted version of Microsoft Exchange 2010 through Intermedia (more coming up on that shortly). I hated Outlook Web Access in Exchange 2007 and earlier. The Outlook Web App in Exchange 2010 is a complete game-changer. It can match the desktop version of Outlook feature for feature, and it feels like an app, not a fancy web page.
  • No licensing hassles. The hidden nightmare of running your own Exchange server isn’t the cost (substantial) and complexity (equally substantial) of maintaining hardware and patching servers. No, the real headache is keeping track of Server Licenses and Client Access Licenses and External Connector Licenses. An Office 365 subscription doesn’t require any additional licenses. Pay your six bucks each month and you’re done.
  • Simple, clean, usable. My Windows 7 Inside Out co-authors and I used Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS) for collaborative portions of the first edition of our book in 2009. We elected not to use BPOS for our 2011 revision. Why? It was too expensive, too difficult to administer, and, frankly, ugly. Office 365 is easier to use and considerably cheaper. And the difference in design is substantial. This is a good-looking, well-designed, extremely usable product. That’s true both from the user’s perspective and from the administrative side.
  • Easy sharing with SharePoint. If you’re using Office tools—Word, Excel, PowerPoint—to plan and execute a project, SharePoint changes everything. It integrates well with the Office 2010 desktop apps and lets you preview and edit in the browser. (And yes, it appears to work without compromise in Firefox and Safari—Chrome, too, although that browser isn’t officially supported.) The best part is you can invite anyone to share documents on your SharePoint site; they don’t need to be Office 365 subscribers, and you don’t need to worry about licensing.

I’ve already found a few bugs in this beta. (My favorite is a prompt that appeared when I first signed on to my SharePoint site asking if I wanted to allow an ActiveX control called “Control name is not available” from a publisher named “Not Available.” Presumably that gets fixed soon. Real soon.)

Now that Office 365 is officially open as a beta, I’m ramping up my own testing. Later this afternoon, a colleague and I will be using Lync Online to test screen sharing, and I’ll be using a few of the 25 licenses included with the beta plan to add some outside partners to the mix.

If you want to sign up for the Office 365 beta, go here. If you do sign up, tell me about it in the Talkback section below. I’m especially interested in hearing what kind of testing you plan to do. If you’re interested but unable to sign up for the beta, what would you like to see me test?

Topics: Collaboration, Microsoft, Software

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  • RE: Why the Office 365 beta is worth testing

    Small typo, you have demoted it to Office 265 in your final point of the 4 :-)

    • Fixed, thanks


      Unfortunately, spell check never catches that kind of error!
      Ed Bott
      • RE: Why the Office 365 beta is worth testing

        @Ed Bott No worries, signed up for the Beta and waiting to take it for a test drive
    • RE: Why the Office 365 beta is worth testing

      @BondiGeek for the EMEA users:)
  • RE: Why the Office 365 beta is worth testing

    Yes, this is great. Please share your thoughts once you beta test it.
    Ram U
  • RE: Why the Office 365 beta is worth testing

    Yep it is worth Testing , just need Microsoft Lych need to intergrated into Windows Live Messenger , I am beta tester for Office365 ..I love more than Officelive , Might just move my domain from Google to Microsoft Office 365 once it is all final but Google Apps has little startup cost than Microsoft office 365.
  • RE: My Experience with BPOS - and caveats for Office 365

    Our I.T. department extensively tested BPOS. We are a company of 1500 employees, roughly 1B in annual revenue. We ran into roadblock after roadblock that Microsoft support either could not or would not resolve. We had a pretty good idea what we were getting into with a cloud based solution in terms of control and flexibility but Microsoft support was the final nail in the coffin - or lack of support, to be more accurate. Almost without exception, we were told 'fixed in the beta of Office 365'. This was back in late summer 2010. We were told Office 365 would be live Q1 2011. This is April and I see they are just now expanding the beta.

    It may work for you. It didn't for us, and we went more than the extra mile with Microsoft to make it so. We are now evaluating another shared tenant Exchange solution and the support is great.
    • RE: Why the Office 365 beta is worth testing

      @bob.ess@... Interesting. What insurmountable "problem after problem" did you run into, specifically? Very interested to hear what impeded a company of your size.

      We've been using BPOS for over a year and LOVE it. We've been running the beta of Office365 for a week now and want to upgrade wholesale. It's THAT good.
      • I find the comment on support to be false


        In my experience BPOS support has been absolutely top notch. Certainly far better than I was ever expecting given the price.

        The only "insurmountable" problem I've run across is no support for Public Folders. And perhaps the additional costs of a Blackberry setup. And they are pretty clear about those up front.
  • Website hosting

    We need more details on the website hosting feature. Does this exist in the E (enterprise) plans or only in the P (professional/smallbiz) ones? Do they carry copyrights or other notices about them being hosted on Office 365? Can you integrate your own code bits? What HTML standards do they adhere to? How many pages can you add to a site? Can you set up subdomains?
    • RE: Why the Office 365 beta is worth testing

      @Joe_Raby Hosting for small business is available in the P plan which is essentially small business. Microsoft doesn't offer the hosting in the E or K plans.
  • What about Access

    Any plan for web based Access db app?
    • RE: Why the Office 365 beta is worth testing

      @leo@... On-premise SharePoint 2010 Enterprise supports this, but I don't think the hosted Office 365 version will in the near-term. I could be wrong, however.
  • RE: Why the Office 365 beta is worth testing

    I've moved our small company over to the beta as our full solution. As the "review" says, it's massively worth it to remove the hassle of managing your server. We used SBS and even that simplified interface tok up 4 hours of my time a week. That's worth an awful lot more than $6 a month!

    The web hosting is limiting and if you want to use your own domain you have to delegate your domain to microsoft's name servers. Their domain controls are very limited, and the website hosting is quite restrictive - but for a company like us, where the website is anciallary, not our main business, that's a small price to pay.

    The only hurdle so far has been that we have not had much luck with Exchange mail services on our Android phones. That's a significant pain.
    • One small correction


      You don't have to delegate your entire domain, just the MX record and some Lync connection info.
      Ed Bott
    • My Droid 2 works fine


      At least as fine as it did with Exchange 2003, 2007 and now Office 365. Which is to say sometimes it decides it doesn't want to check e-mail and screws with my contacts. But that's an android problem, not a Microsoft problem. Always has been.
  • RE: Why the Office 365 beta is worth testing

    I'll be testing SharePoint 2011's Access Services for Web Databases when I get admission to the public beta. I signed up for the private beta but didn't receive an invitation. Ended up using SharePoint hosted by AccessHosting.com, which worked quite well.

  • RE: Why the Office 365 beta is worth testing

    I received my invitation today. I had planned to use the built-in tools in Exchange 2010 to migrate my mailboxes from my SBS 2011 to Office 365; however, a third-party certificate is necessary (versus the self-signed one I have now), so it's back to square one. Any ideas on importing my .ost into Exchange Online would be appreciated.
  • RE: Why the Office 365 beta is worth testing

    Any word on IPv6 support in the hosted services?
  • If you think MS support is bad...try Google

    We have roughly 2,000 mailboxes and struggled with trying to move to Google apps for about 6 months before we pulled the plug. Weeks get a call back from someione who was no help and the final straw was the only way we got to a support rep that could help us was to dispute the charge on the credit card we used to setup the initial 100 users.