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Microsoft scores – and then an own goal

At Conosco IT Support London, we’re great cheerleaders for web-based applications for our customers – they promise cheap, enterprise-class services with low upfront investment and unlimited scalability. Ideal for one of our ambitious startups. Who wants to run their own servers these days?

So Microsoft’s lumbering approach to this area has kept us all in suspense – will it make a successful transition to this new technical era, as it belatedly did when Internet Explorer crushed Netscape?

Well, we’re now getting a clearer view – and it’s confused (of course) and inflicts unnecessary self-harm (of course).

  • Companies with less than 100 users can get Office Live Workspace, a new filesharing service that is simple, intuitive and slick. It will be a winner – not just because it’s better than Google Docs or Zoho, but because it lets you set up a shared folder structure across a whole company, which the others don’t.
  • There’s also a variant, Office Live Small Business, which adds a web site, email and various business applications. Forget it – the email appears to be Hotmail which simply isn’t up to business needs. Use hosted Exchange instead.
  • The large-company product is “Business Productivity Online Suite” (BPOS), which includes Exchange, Sharepoint (filesharing) and Office Communications (instant messenger). The clumsy name is a warning – you get Sharepoint in all its snarling complexity. BPOS is a dog.

Ah, but MS will realise its error and release Office Live for larger companies? Don’t count on it – MS has form here. It has a great product called Windows Small Business Server, which offers an out-of-the-box server with filesharing, Exchange, SQL, Active Directory, a Domain Controller and more. But it has restrictions, such as 75GB of mailbox space, which mean that at 50-100 users you have to upgrade to a full set of servers, with massively larger setup costs. We’ve often wanted to save money for our customers by installing SBS, but hit its arbitrary limitations.

Will MS force customers of over 100 users to learn the fiendish Sharepoint maze?