Office 365 vs. Google Apps

Microsoft’s new Office 365 cloud service is available in a variety of plans and offers an array of services, including: Exchange Online, SharePoint Online including the Office Web Apps, and Lync Online. For smaller companies in particular, Office 365 provides an interesting alternative, because administration is kept very simple and the cloud services are presented to users with a familiar MS Office look and feel (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Working in a familiar environment: the Outlook Web App in Office 365.

Office 365

To set up Office 365, all you need is a domain with the provider of your choice. In an initial step, you will sign the domain for use with Office 365 in the web-based management interface (Figure 2).

Figure 2: First steps with the web-based management interface of Office 365.

After checking broad legitimation for the domain by manually creating a CNAME record or adding another MX record (which can take up to 24 hours, depending on the provider and the DNS configuration), you can start to set up the global enterprise preferences for the use of the various cloud services in the management interface.

Depending on the size of your company, you can either add new users manually or import a CSV file that you exported from your Active Directory; this approach is guaranteed to save you a huge amount of time if you have many users. After successfully adding a user account, the administrator receives a message containing the user’s credentials and a temporary password for the user.

Besides user management, you can use the administration section of Office 365 to manage all of your subscriptions and add new subscriptions for new users. If you experience difficulty with one of the cloud services, the support section shows you the status of all of your services as well as information on planned maintenance. You can also submit a direct service request to the Office 365 Support Team or post a question within the closed community forum.

Instant Messaging and Video

To support real-time collaboration in the enterprise, Office 365 offers the Lync Online communications service, which enables both online meetings with other staff and colleagues and communication with contacts outside the enterprise. For example, you can use Lync Online to add Windows Live Messenger contacts and then chat with the contacts or make audio or video calls. To use all of Lync Online’s features, you will need the Lync Client (Figure 3), which is currently only available for Windows.

Figure 3: Real-time communication with Windows Live contacts in Lync.

According to Microsoft, mobile solutions for Lync will be available for various smartphone platforms by the end of this year. Also, Lync is also integrated into the Outlook Web Application, although it only offers users the option of instant messaging there.

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