Last week Microsoft officially launched its cloud-based infrastructure offering, Office 365. As a virtual insider I have been using this solution for the past six months for my IT consulting firm, and frankly had forgotten that it was a beta offering. That is because while the packaging may be new, all of the applications – both client- and server-side – are mature products that released to manufacturing long since.
I am not surprised by the number of negative reviews; the different offerings and price points are complicated to understand, owing to the sheer number of them. For the do-it-yourself guy who is not very technical it may be difficult setting up the DNS records properly. Some of the features available in the rich client versions are not available in the on-line applications.
While I may disagree with some of the criticism I want to be clear that I share your pain; this morning I finally opened the e-mail that essentially said that ‘The Office 365 beta program is over; we hope you have enjoyed using it… now it’s time to start paying for it!’ I was disappointed that there was no link in the e-mail that would lead me to where I could do that.
When I did log into my management site (portal.microsoftonline.com) I was greeted with a simple, discrete line up top reminding me that I had 42 days remaining in my free trial subscription. I was pleased by this because it takes the pressure off somewhat… until I click ‘Buy now’ and am told immediately that I need the E3 level subscription for my company.
Fortunately a closer read let me know that I had other options… I have already purchased the Office Professional clients for my computers, so that would save me a ton of money. So now I had to look at my other options:
These are the bundles available… but there are so many components, what if I only want to pick and choose the ones I want?
What… there’s more? Wow, keep scrolling!
Ok at least I am near the end… all I have to do is expand Additional Services and I’ll know everything…
All of a sudden this is looking daunting and expensive… maybe I should just buy a license of Windows Small Business Server 2011 to run my infra… wait a minute! I had one of those ‘smack my forehead’ moments. Doesn’t Microsoft usually put together special packaging and pricing for small businesses? Certainly the six of us who use our corporate e-mail (and SharePoint, and and and) would qualify as an SMB… let’s see if I can find that anywhere on the page…
Okay, let’s click here and see what turns up…
Now wait a minute… $6/month per user? There has to be a catch… scrolling down I see this plan offers me all of the services I need (and still many that I don’t)… I am still looking for a catch!
I haven’t found one… If you have the Office client (which I do) or are willing to use on-line apps (which have most but not all of the functionality, and have the pesky disadvantage of not being available on airplanes) then smaller organizations are in luck. $72 per user/year is not a lot considering the time I would have to spend installing, configuring, and maintaining my own Exchange and SharePoint servers.
So what about the confusing options for Enterprise? There are absolutely a lot of choices. There are people who will always say that Microsoft can’t get anything right, and the people who poo poo these editions and tiers are the same people who would complain that if they had fewer choices they would be restricted in their options.
For smaller businesses it is a no brainer, and for larger organizations they will have to sit down and plan what options they need. Does Office 365 need more thought than competitive options? Sure… but it also offers more choice.