Microsoft Office 365 beta: Useful, frustrating

The suite of cloud-based business applications offers definite advantages -- if the rough edges can be smoothed out.

By Preston Gralla, Computerworld |  Software, microsoft office 365

When you first log in (Office 365 supports Internet Explorer and Firefox, but not Chrome), you're greeted by a simple, straightforward page that lets you navigate to the Web-based version of Outlook for reading e-mail, head to SharePoint to use its services, install or use the Lync communications server, install connector software that links your local Outlook client to Office 365, or install Microsoft Office Professional if it's not already installed.

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 access -- the 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.


Originally published on Computerworld |  Click here to read the original story.
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