The big decision: Shall I spend $6/month on Office 365?

I began using Office 365 last February. At that point Microsoft was still running a closed beta but the software was pretty robust and seemed close to ready for prime time. Since then Microsoft has progressed matters through a widespread public beta to the formal launch of Office 365 on June 28. Office 365 is now very much operational for new customers who are happy to use a shared service.

Those who need a dedicated service, essentially large enterprises of over 5,000 seats who require more control over the details of the service, will have to wait until next year before Microsoft starts to sell a dedicated version of Office 365. In the meantime, large enterprises can start the process of moving to the cloud by using BPOS (Business Productivity Online Services, the previous generation of Microsoft’s online service). However, although BPOS shares some common technology (for example, Exchange Online), its technology platform is quite different from Office 365 in many respects and BPOS customers will eventually experience the unique pleasure and anguish of a migration to Office 365. At that point the cycle will be complete and Microsoft will have a single unified online service.

Today Office 365 includes Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Lync Online. That situation will evolve over time to include other products such as Microsoft Project and Microsoft Visio and I imagine that the already somewhat confusing matrix of Office 365 plans (eleven to date) will expand to further confuse buyers and sellers alike.

In any case, as the politicians say “we are where we are” and the time has come for me to get off the fence and decide whether to actually invest some hard-earned cash by taking out a paid subscription to Office 365. Microsoft has sent me several prompts, reminding me that my trial officially comes to an end on August 5. If I want to keep the domain that I registered under onmicrosoft.com and the customizations I applied to my SharePoint pages, I have to provide a credit card to allow Microsoft to charge me monthly.

The situation with Exchange data is relatively straightforward. Most of my email is captured in my offline replica (OST) so it would be easy to move this information to a PST if I decided not to take out a subscription. The exception of course is any information held in my online archive mailbox—just like any other deployment of Exchange 2010, Outlook doesn’t synchronize items stored in an archive mailbox to the OST. The logic is impeccable: archives are designed to hold information that is not of immediate interest and therefore doesn’t need to be replicated to a store that you can use when disconnected to the service. In other words, if you need to have archive information available offline, you must first connect online and move the information to a folder in your primary mailbox, after which Outlook will synchronize the data to the OST and all is well.

In some respects the decision isn’t very difficult at all because I think that the basic entry-level and cheapest Plan P1 is a bit of a bargain at $6/month. I don’t need anything more complicated Plan P1 because I already have a licensed copy of Office 2010. If I didn’t and wanted to use Outlook 2010 to connect to Office 365, I would have to either buy a more expensive plan or stay web-based and use Outlook Web App (OWA).

Of course, this is the U.S. price and it isn’t the same everywhere. For example, I live in Ireland and the fee here is EUR5.25/month plus 21% Value Added Tax, or EUR6.35 in total. That’s a little over $9/month. The same elevated price exists across the Euro zone but the U.K. is a little cheaper. You see the same price variations between the U.S. and other countries across the full spectrum of Office 365 plans.

Of course, you shouldn’t rush into important purchases and I shall think a little more before I flash the plastic. But in the end, I think I’ll be an Office 365 customer.

 

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Tony Redmond

Tony Redmond is a senior contributing editor for Windows IT Pro and the author of Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 Inside Out (Microsoft Press) and Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 Inside Out: Mailbox...
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