Blog Post

Office 365 for Business Review

Introduction

Microsoft Office 365 for Business is a relative newcomer to the “cloud” market with the likes of Google Apps (for Work) having been around much longer. When I originally researched moving my mail, contacts and calendars to the cloud, Office 365 looked terrible so I bypassed it completely (FYI; options I looked at included Zoho, Google Apps, Atmail and more). I ended up using Atmail for a while but found it too restrictive (particularly for contacts). I then heard that Microsoft had completely redone and relaunched Office 365, so I checked it out and before long I was hooked! Note: Office 365 for Business is a full Exchange/Cloud Server/SharePoint solution, not to be confused with the Office 365 subscription service that is used to obtain the desktop version of Microsoft Office 2016 for Mac and Windows.

The Good

Microsoft have clearly spent a lot of time on the web interface for Office 365. It’s fully featured and reasonably easy to come to grips with. Being Exchange based means it also works fantastically in most email/contact/calendar applications on all major platforms. For those that don’t do Exchange, IMAP and POP are still available.

There’s OneDrive for Business cloud storage (1TB), 50GB for your email and yet more storage within SharePoint (a powerful cloud collaboration and storage system). Plus if you spend a little more per month you get the latest Office 2016 suite of applications (Windows, Mac, iOS & Android) installable up to 5 times (I don’t think mobile devices currently count towards this limit). Note that the best Office 365 experience is found within Outlook 2016 or OWA (Outlook Web Access), where email aliases are supported as “From” addresses (with a little tweaking of your Exchange set up).

There are also Add-ins that even work in the Mac version of Outlook (this came as a surprise to me given how the Mac version often plays second fiddle to the Windows version!). OneDrive for Business has sync clients for most devices and as of recently, now supports sync’ing of SharePoint files (if you use the version of OneDrive found on the Microsoft website, not in the Mac App Store).

The Not So Good

Unless you use IMAP to sync your email, it’s not possible to use email alias addresses within Apple’s Mail application. This is mainly due to Apple not supporting this feature (possibly because of the way Mail utilises/accesses Exchange). Also, the free Shared Mailboxes are only accessible via Outlook (Web or Desktop). Lastly, the OneDrive application doesn’t see the same account on the local network and sync from there, so you’ll end up using more internet bandwidth than Dropbox (which can do this).

Summary

In summary, I think with a bit more work on LAN sync and further support in the Outlook for iOS App, Microsoft will have a category winning solution. Overall, I’ve been very happy with Office 365, particularly with not having to track down why particular emails were not received (or delivered). Up time is great, issues are minimal and there’s enough customisation available that it can be a very powerful tool, for the sole trader, all the way up to large corporations.

Full Disclosure

Cutting Edge IT is a Microsoft Partner and receives small commissions for referrals. Nevertheless, this review strives to remain as objective and realistic as possible.

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