Now's your chance to try Microsoft's revamped, online versions of Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync for yourself, so don't miss it
Problems with the Office 365 beta
I found several parts of the beta confusing.
On the Admin side, the Intro for Office 365 Administrators says, "SharePoint Online permissions and user groups are managed separately from Office 365 settings ... new user accounts that you create in Office 365 are not automatically added to your Team Site's user list. You will need to manually add users to the Team Site, so that you can control who in your company has access to the Team Site." While that may be literally true, it's misleading. By default, any new user that you add via the Add New Users link on the Admin Overview page is automatically allowed read-write access to all of the files in the SharePoint Team Site. That's what you want, at least 90 percent of the time, and you don't have to change anything in the Team Sites section to make it so.
On the client side, I had a lot of trouble getting new users connected to the SharePoint Team Site. Working in Word 2010, for example, there isn't any easy way to navigate to the Team Site; when I click on File, Save and Send, Send to SharePoint, the Team Site doesn't initially appear. When I then double-click on Browse for a Location, I'm unceremoniously dumped into the Save As dialog box, without a clue where to go. Clicking on File/Open doesn't bring up the Team Site either, at least at first. Even though my SharePoint Team Site appeared on the Windows 7 Network list -- AskWoody.SharePoint.com was there, along with all of my networked PCs -- I couldn't navigate in or around it.
I discovered a trick, strictly by trial and error. For newly installed users, I went to the Office 365 portal, and from there clicked to the Team Site. I clicked on one of the documents in the Team Site, and clicked Edit. That opened the doc inside the Word Web App. In the upper-left corner, I clicked Open in Word. Word dutifully fired up with the document inside, and voilà: Suddenly I could save the file -- or any other Word doc -- to the Team Site. Open started working, too.
I figure that's one of those Word-is-from-Venus, SharePoint-is-from-Alpha-Centauri problems.
There are lots of navigational problems, too. For example, from the SharePoint Administration Center, there are no links to get out of SharePoint. If you find yourself chasing down that Admin rabbit hole, the only way back out is the browser's Back button.
Other problems I had are inherent with the products themselves.
- The Office Web Apps can't hold a candle to their desktop namesakes, and editing with them is anything but WYSIWYG. Corollary: editing with a phone is incredibly frustrating.
- SharePoint Team Sites document collections can get huge, and there's no way to effectively organize them.
- If there's a way to show filename extensions on the Team Site's Documents page, I can't find it.
- The Web page app inside SharePoint has a cookie-cutter feel with few options but, yes, it does work.
- Collaborating on edits of a single document takes some discipline and patience: You're locked out of any part of a document that's been changed by a collaborator, until the collaborator saves the document.
- I don't like the interface in Lync as much as I like Skype, and Lync doesn't seem to run as fast. Maybe that's just me.
Not all is doom and gloom. These are the same, familiar Office applications and Office servers that you've come to know and love -- only you don't need to run your own servers unless you want to, and you can rent the software.
Consultants who have set up their clients with Small Business Server should be looking hard at the benefits of setting up Office 365. Professionals and SME businesses that would find Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync useful now have a good alternative. And it's cheap.
Corporate IT departments will appreciate the way Office 365 can peacefully co-exist with their current operations. Outsourcing server ops is certainly an inviting possibility. Microsoft has the iron and the experience to make it happen relatively painlessly, but whether your specific installation can be migrated to -- and whether your users can be kept happy with -- a one-size-fits-many solution is a tough call.
Office 365 is a compelling package. Give it a try.
This article, "InfoWorld preview: Office 365 beta," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in cloud computing and Windows at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.
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