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Microsoft Office 365 beta: Potentially useful, occasionally frustrating

Preston Gralla | Jan. 25, 2011
The suite of cloud-based business applications offers definite advantagesif the rough edges can be smoothed out.

The heart of the suite, and the feature that can provide the greatest benefit for small and midsize businesses, is Exchange hosted in the cloud. This offers the benefits of Exchange without the headaches of hosting.

The biggest advantage is getting access to corporate e-mail via client-based Outlook, Outlook on the Web, and on most popular mobile devices, including Windows Phone 7 devices, Android devices, BlackBerries and Apple's iPhone.

For mobile devices, Office 365 provides true Exchange support, not merely POP3 accessthe e-mail storage is in a central location, and you're merely accessing that same storage from different devices. For example, if you create and send e-mail on your Android phone, it will show up in your e-mail outbox on client-based Outlook, Outlook on the Web, or any other device that accesses your mail.

More important, when you take any action on your e-mail on any device, that action automatically flows to any other devices accessing e-mail. Create a new folder on Web-based Outlook, for example, and it shows up in the client version of Outlook.

The Web-based version of Outlook looks much like the client version; there's no learning curve because the interface mimics the familiar client look quite well. As with the rest of the suite, it's supported on Firefox and Internet Explorer, but not Chrome. It will be familiar to those who have used Outlook Web Access (OWA). You get access to your calendar as well as e-mail.

Going mobile
Setup and use on mobile devices is generally straightforward, as long as you watch out for a few potential glitches. It should be no surprise that setup with Windows Phone 7 devices is the simplest. Just enter your password and username, and Windows Phone 7 does the rest. You'll then be able to use your mail via Windows Phone 7's Outlook app. However, you may not see older e-mails that have been sent and received. That's because the default setting for Outlook on Windows Phone 7 only syncs mail that has been sent and received in the last three days.

You can change that setting to the last seven days, the last two weeks or the last month, or you can set it up so you can view mail sent and received at any time. In Outlook on Windows Phone 7, get to the settings screen, then select "Sync settings-->Download e-mail from" and make your choice about how you want mail synced.

Setting it up on other phones generally takes a little more work. In Android, for example, you have to go into My Accounts and set up a new Corporate Sync Account. For the Domain/username field, you have to append the address of your Office 365 account to the front of your username. For example, if your Office 365 account is mydomain.onmicrosoft.com, and your username is pgralla, you'd enter mydomain.onmicrosoft.com/pgralla in that field. For the Server field, you enter m.outlook.com. Once you do that, it works and syncs as you would expect.

 

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