Office 365 or: How I Learned to Stop Worry and Love the Cloud

In case you hadn't noticed, has been down for a few days (many people did, thanks for letting me know ;-) ).

Anyway, these things happen in datacenters - even with the best will in the world, occasionally things go wrong. In this instance, a BIG thankyou to Bluewave for getting them back up and running as they kindly host the UKLUG servers for me.

Anyway, this brought forward something I'd been meaning to look at for ages. As much as I like Notes, let's say that it isn't the fastest mail client in the west. I've been using Mac Mail, Calendar and Contacts for a long time and they are alot faster to use. Less functionality I know - but I don't need it now. BUT, more to the point, on my own server, I have to administer it. That's not hard, but it does take up my time. And usually, when things need fixing is when I can't get to them and need them the most. Sods's law.

So, with the new job I decided to concentrate on new things and let someone else host my email. I shall move to the cloud. Why not, with the UKLUG servers down, I have no mail!

This was actually a decision I'd made months ago but done nothing about, so now was the time to move. Here's what happened.

Where to move to? Well, I already had a Google account, I use an Android phone and many shared Google calendars. That's surely the best option. So, off I go to open a Google Apps account.

FAIL! I've been a postini user for years (good service), but currently postini is being transferred to Google Apps as well. Good choice - now everything is on one place. BAD choice. It seems that whilst my account is being migrated - which will happen sometime in 2013, they won't tell me when - I can't upgrade. Worse still, I can't cancel my postini account. I can let that timeout, but that's no good.
So I can either wait an undefined period of time to move to Google Apps or not. With no email, I choose not. EPIC FAIL and a lost customer, Google.

Next up, Apple iCloud. Makes sense, I have lots of Apple devices. Except iCloud doesn't let you use your own domain name. FAIL.

OK, IBM Smartcloud (ne: LotusLive). Yes, I should have checked this one first.... I do some digging and remember that Domino doesn't create iCal feeds for your Calendar. So I can't use the Mac calendar client. FAIL. That one's out of the running then (shame, it would have been the easiest to migrate to). Points to Smartcloud for finally allowing me to signup as a 2 user company with a credit card though...

...This brings me onto another point. Why do all the cloud services make it so bloody hard to actually see what you're getting? A simple list of 'here's what clients and protocols we support' would make life so much easier...

Anyway, there is one elephant left in the room - Office 365.

So, I somewhat reluctantly take a look. I get all the client support I want (through Activesync, not ical feeds, but I can live with that). Anti-spam thrown in. DNS management thrown in (I actually would rather manage my name servers myself, but the instructions on how to do that don't work...) - all for next-to-nothing per month. I get Lync IM and video conferencing which might be useful. I even get access to Sharepoint sites, shared mailboxes and a bunch of other stuff I'll probably never need.

Well, I had no mail, so Office 365 is was. And you know what? I really quite like it. Now it's not perfect. For instance, the Outlook client is truly horrible. Buttons EVERYWHERE. But as I said, I'm not going to use that.
There does seem to be an occasional login conflict with my hotmail account - which has the same username as my Office365 account. That seems to be a known issue though, so hopefully that's being worked on. ical feed support in the web-based calendar is clunky. Oh, and Mac Mail has the habit of showing blank emails every so often (I think it's when you send me a MIME message with no plain text counterpart - baaaaaad mail administrators....).

BUT - it works. It took me (and I am not exaggerating) 20 minutes to migrate. That includes my Mac, Kitty's Mac and our iPhone and Android phone. It. Just. Works. And, by the way, I *love* the web interface. It's really clean, simple and does just what I need it to do and nothing more.

So, the moral of the story? Well, I guess the biggest thing for me was realising just what was important to me - as a mail user. I am constantly reminded by Kitty that I'm a user now, not an administrator. It's true - as a user all I need to do is read, reply and delete emails. So a solution that does that well is very important. Especially in my choice of client. The rest... hierarchical keys, multiple server replication, especially complex calendaring etc etc I can work around. As a user.... I just don't care.