Microsoft Office 365 Beta: First Look

It is still a beta, but Microsoft’s cloud version of Office has impressive management capabilities

Using the cloud to deliver applications isn’t a new idea, but it’s one that’s had to wait until now for technology to catch up with it. Microsoft’s Office 365 is the company’s answer to the increasing demand for anywhere, anytime access to applications and services. It provides small businesses as well as enterprises with hosted instances of the company’s Office application lineup, while relieving IT staff of much of the day-to-day care and feeding of those applications.

At first glance, the service, which opened as a public beta in mid-April (the beta had been running in private since October) could be a blessing for organisations that would like to take advantage of the tight integration that Microsoft offers in its desktop and server applications, without investing in the hardware or staff necessary to deploy such collaboration and productivity tools as Lync and SharePoint.

Well thought out services

Office 365 encompasses a well-thought-out collection of services that combine flexibility and stability while conforming to real-world business needs for compliance and security.

In its first incarnation, enterprise customers can provide their users with email through Exchange Online, advanced communication services through Lync Online and collaboration tools in the form of SharePoint Online. The service provides users with access to locally installed instances of Office Professional Plus as well as the Microsoft-hosted Office Web Apps.

Although hosted instances of the Office server apps are already available from third parties, the Office 365 instances raise the bar for what customers should expect. For example, some Exchange deployments constrain users to a couple of gigabytes of storage. Exchange Online users get a 25GB mailbox as a default and the ability to send messages up to 25MB in size. That alone is enough to sell me on the service. I’m the first person to point out that I’m a bit of a pack rat, but at the rate I go, it would take me at least a decade to fill up that much space.

Office 365 gives an organisation a choice of presenting the service through a subdomain of Microsoft’s domain, or through the organisation’s own DNS domain. Depending on how the organisation handles DNS, presenting Office 365 as a subdomain of the organisation’s own domain can get tricky. The DNS entries will be child’s play for outfits that run their own DNS servers, but when I tried to set up the Office 365 services to present themselves through a subdomain of one of the eWEEK Labs domains, I found that our provider couldn’t easily accommodate the service (SVR) records required to deploy Lync Online.

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