Microsoft launched its Office 365 service towards the end of June, which saw more than 50,000 businesses and individuals signing up for a 30-day free trial within two weeks. One of them happened to be me, and I liked the Exchange Online experience so much that I decided to move my email account from its old home at leading hosted-Exchange provider Intermedia to Microsoft's Office 365 before the trial period ran out. So yes, I am now a paying user of an Office 365 service plan.
I wrote about Intermedia when I first migrated to its Hosted Exchange 2010 service in 2009. This was documented in my post, "Benefits of Switching to Hosted Exchange 2010." Intermedia took notice at that time and even quoted me in its marketing emails as well as on the top of its Exchange Server product page (which is still there at the time of writing). I had written that "One reason I opted for Intermedia is due to it being the world's largest provider of Microsoft Exchange hosting ... I am impressed by the stellar and prompt tech support." By the way, I still think Intermedia offers excellent service and a robust hosted-Exchange service. So what prompted me to make the switch?
The short answer has to do with cost; Intermedia has revamped its service plans since I signed up in 2009 and phased out single-account plans. On the other hand, Microsoft has opted to forgo all forms of direct support (even email) for its lowest-end plans in order to drive prices down to as low as US$6 per account per month. In addition, the primary advantage of hosting with Intermedia was its support of my BlackBerry smartphone via BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES). While that had worked well for me over the years, I've found myself no longer able to rationalize the hefty double premium for BlackBerry hosting at Intermedia's end and the ridiculous Telco-imposed BES tariffs.
At a time when I can read new email messages from my iPhone or iPad at zero additional cost, I figured that I'll simply go for the lowest cost option in the form of Office 365 (with no BES support). Believe it or not, this move saved me a hefty US$50 per month. This can add up to a lot of money for SMBs, though the exact savings will obviously vary by company.
In addition, it is important to note that Office 365 is much more than an Exchange offering, and is really Microsoft's answer to the threat of Google Apps. Office 365 offers SharePoint Online, Lync Online for basic plans, with Office Web Apps and even license for Office Professional Plus thrown in for more expensive tiers. While the various service offerings can be confusing initially, its ease of use is undeniable. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer summed it up when he outlined the company's vision for Office 365: "With a few clicks, Office 365 levels the playing field, giving small and midsize businesses powerful collaboration tools that have given big businesses an edge for years."
I do have a number of thoughts about Office 365 and its impact on SMBs, which I shall share in another blog post tomorrow. Stay tuned.