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First look: Office 365 beta shows promise but lacks polish

Neil McAllister | Nov. 26, 2010
Microsoft's cloud productivity suite has big ambitions, but feels poorly integrated and may leave admins wanting more

In crafting the administration screens for Exchange Online, Microsoft has walked a fine line between simplicity and power. Admins can manage user accounts and organize them into distribution groups, create mail rules, generate audit reports, set up devices for use with ActiveSync, and draft a Bad Words policy to screen email, if desired. But your control of these features is somewhat limited, and many admins may find themselves wishing for more. For example, we're told the Exchange Online server incorporates "industry-leading anti-virus and anti-spam solutions," but if so, they're black boxes, with no controls to allow admins to tune or monitor them.

Another key selling point of Office 365 is Lync Online, a hosted version of Microsoft's revamped Communications Server. We experienced some provisioning problems at first, but once we were up and running, Lync allowed us to see presence and contact information for authors of collaborative documents, enhancing the workgroup experience considerably.

Lync also allowed us to launch IM, voice, and video chat sessions with our contacts, as well as share our screens for presentation. It's a powerful addition to the suite and an impressive unified communications solution -- although it may be a little ahead of the curve for some small businesses.

In all, Office 365 brings a lot of technology to the table, and Microsoft's promise to eliminate some of the drudgework of IT administration is compelling. We just hope that as it moves beyond this early beta period, Microsoft manages to smooth out some of the navigation issues and gives the overall suite a more consistent user experience. With an offering this complex, however, that may be a tall order.

 

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