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IDG News Service - When Microsoft launches Office 365 on Tuesday, the countdown will officially begin for current BPOS customers to upgrade to the new suite.
BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite) customers will have to migrate to Office 365 within the next 12 months, and IT administrators would do well to start familiarizing themselves with the process.
For starters, BPOS works with some older versions of on-premise software products that Office 365 can't connect to, so BPOS administrators must be aware of potential upgrades they may need.
This is especially important for customers that implement hybrid deployments, so that the cloud software can interact and sync up with Microsoft desktop and server applications -- Microsoft's "software plus services" concept.
While Microsoft highlights this as an advantage for Office 365 compared with pure cloud rivals like Google Apps, it means that customers need to ensure they have certain versions of on-premise products to achieve a successful migration and implementation.
To Microsoft's credit, the company has plenty of information already available detailing the technical requirements for implementing Office 365, including necessary software, instructions for directory synchronization, troubleshooting tips and blog postings. There is also a discussion forum and a special Web portal for Office 365 transitions.
The abundance of BPOS-to-Office 365 information could be indicative that the migration process may turn out complex, especially for smaller companies with few or no IT employees and little or no resources to hire outside help, said Rebecca Wettemann, a Nucleus Research analyst.
"If you need an entire website dedicated to explaining to people how you transition to Office 365, you've made things pretty complicated for the customer," she said.
Since Office 365 will provide a variety of critical functions, including e-mail, the stakes are high.
"The process doesn't seem straight-forward. Microsoft is relying on the customer to do some things that particularly small businesses may not be in a position to do successfully," she said. "This is e-mail. It's important. It's not something people can take casually, even if they're a small business."
In addition to the technical complexity, Wettemann is concerned about the cost of required software upgrades for Office 365, most notably the need to have Office 2007 SP2 or Office 2010 on users' desktops for hybrid deployments.
Office 365 doesn't work with Outlook 2003 either. "There's a pretty substantial base of Outlook 2003 users out there," industry analyst Michael Osterman from Osterman Research said.
Microsoft disputes the notion that implementing or transitioning to Office 365 will be complicated. "Office 365 is an easy-to-use cloud productivity service that new customers can set up with a few clicks," including small businesses, a Microsoft representative said via e-mail.
Also, the company points out that Office Web Apps -- the online version of Office that comes with most Office 365 versions -- doesn't require Office on the desktop to work. However, that scenario also means that end users can't move and synchronize files back and forth between their desktop Office client software and Office Web Apps on the cloud.