Microsoft Office 365: weak points to expect at launch

Microsoft Corp. is all but sure to launch the full version of Office 365 tomorrow and the online version will fall short of its on-premises cousin in several ways, according to an independent analyst firm.

Though Redmond hasn’t officially announced Office 365’s genearl availability tomorrow, CEO Steve Ballmer will be giving a speech about it on that day in New York. Media events are also planned around Office 365 in Toronto for June 28.

Microsoft may be mum on details about Office 365 ahead of its launch, but Directions on Microsoft recently gave a preview of what to expect from the cloud-based productivity suite in a Webcast. The firm is independent and dedicated to tracking Microsoft.

Strengths of the online suite include near-instant deployment of applications, and noticeable upgrades compared to predecessor Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS), according to Wes Miller, research vice-president for server applications with Directions on Microsoft. Miller also worked with Microsoft for seven years, as a part of the team that built Windows XP.

Weaknesses of Office 365 are akin to “weaknesses of any cloud-based service,” he says. “You’re going to wind up with some of these when you’re migrating from on-premises to somewhere else.”

Related Story: First look at Microsoft Office 365

Transitions from local software to cloud solutions don’t happen at the flip of a switch, so businesses will have to juggle two versions of Office for some time, Miller says. There’s also the leap of faith in placing your data in the cloud, and in the hands of Microsoft.

“You are putting it in the hands of Microsoft, so they are backing it up for you. The reality is backup is something you do not control when you move to Office 365,” Miller says. It’s also not going to be easy to pull your data out of the cloud once it’s there, so make sure you understand the Service Level Agreements before you sign on.

p>Here’s what to expect from Office 365 applications:

Exchange Online

Exchange Online is the closest 365 application to its on-premises forbearer, Miller says. “We suspect this is the thing that will pull a lot of businesses into Office 365.”

Each user gets a 25 GB mailbox, and can access Outlook via Microsoft’s Web Apps. The online version integrates with the on premises version, helping businesses who are migrating. It allows for scripted management via PowerShell and has built-in virus and spam controls, he says.

What it doesn’t have it hierarchical address lists, Global Address List segmentations, managed folders or public folders. Also, it doesn’t support server side MAPI or CDO protocols, so any apps your business has that use those will not work.

SharePoint Online

Sharepoint Online will be much easier to deploy than the local version, and comes with 10 GB of storage per tenant and an additional 500 megs per user. It will allow for the creation of sites to collaborate amongst teams, partners and customers, Miller says. It offers improvements over the BPOS version with document-level permissions, secure extra-net sites, and cross-site collections search.

What will be left out of the online version is any business intelligence features. On premises capabilities like PowerPivot, search integration and scripted management won’t be available at launch, according to the analyst.

Lync Online

Lync Online will include Instant Messenger (IM) and user presence, PC to PC audio/video calling, and online meetings with screen sharing. It focuses on the Web conference aspect of Lync, but not the voice communications supported by the on premises version, Miller says. On the plus side, it’s much simpler to deploy Lync in its online mode.

Mid-sized businesses might want to consider how many Lync users they’ll need to have, as there is a limit of 250 for the online version. “There’s some scale questions and most of Microsoft’s customers were containing their meetings,” Miller says.

Lync Online also won’t connect with any third-party IM clients such as AIM. Connecting will require the application be compatible Microsoft’s communications server.

Microsoft will be updating Lync Online to include more voice capabilities about a year after launch, Miller says. “There is currently testing with dedicated U.S. customers.”

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