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Microsoft's Office 365 not ready to leave beta, analyst says

Support forums illustrate numerous customer complaints about the beta of Microsoft's Office 365 cloud service

By , Network World
June 10, 2011 01:29 PM ET

Network World - Microsoft's Office 365 cloud service is likely on the verge of exiting beta and entering general availability. CEO Steve Ballmer revealed that the service will launch this month and will be giving a speech about the service's future on June 28.

But is Office 365 really ready to ditch the "beta" tag? One analyst who has been testing Office 365 for a few months says no -- and a quick look at Microsoft help forums shows that numerous beta testers are experiencing problems.

MICROSOFT'S CLOUD: Office 365 beta now public

"I'm a big fan of Office 365. I think it's going to do well," says analyst Paul Burns of Neovise, who spent 20 years as a software engineer and senior product manager at HP, a strong Microsoft partner, before becoming an industry analyst. "But if they are moving out of beta at the end of June, then yes, I'm surprised."

Burns signed up for the Office 365 beta for himself and five part-time employees, and plans to continue using the service at the small-business rate of $6 per person per month once it becomes generally available. Burns is using Exchange for email as well as SharePoint, Lync, Office Web Apps and the regular version of Microsoft Office.

One missing capability, in Burns' opinion, is the ability to import contacts from, say, an Outlook client into a shared global address list that can be accessed by all employees through an Exchange server.

Currently, Microsoft requires Office 365 customers to either manually enter each email address one by one, or use Windows PowerShell.

Burns isn't the only one complaining about this, as a help forum thread shows.

A Microsoft support specialist told users on May 12, "If you'd like to import a list of contacts into your Global Address List, you'll need an Enterprise subscription. In Enterprise, you can use Remote PowerShell."

A week later, the Microsoft moderator followed up and said, "Small Business subscribers can now use Remote PowerShell."

But PowerShell requires users to work in a command-line interface, and "not everyone has the expertise to do that," Burns said. It's also time-consuming.

Because of the global address list snafu, and another issue that made it difficult to create properly functioning email aliases, Burns says, "I went to download PowerShell, but very quickly I realized this is going to be time-consuming -- and if I write the script, how do I test it? How do I know it's right? Now I'm afraid to run the script on my data. What if I biff it and delete all my stuff instead?"

One Office 365 beta user complained in the global address list help forum, "This is another example of how such a basic requirement from any business cannot be executed unless you have the Enterprise package. Why the heck should you need to have the Enterprise package simply to be able to import contacts into the GAL?"

In response to a query from Network World, Microsoft said it provides tools to small businesses to migrate users and mailboxes from other services.

"Office 365 for small businesses is designed specifically for smaller businesses and professionals who are looking for cloud-based productivity tools without the IT hassles," Microsoft said in an email statement.

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