Office 365 vs Open-Xchange – Instant Messaging and File Sharing

(This post is part of a series comparing our experiences with Microsoft Office 365 and Open-Xchange e-mail hosted by Rackspace. Click here for the overview)

Instant Messaging

E-mail from Microsoft: Microsoft Gives Up on Messenger

Microsoft Gives Up on Messenger

Coming from a background of working at IBM and using the Lotus Sametime software intensively, Microsoft Lync looked promising. We would be able to ask quick questions of one another (a common practice at IBM) and see who was working when.

The first thing we noticed was that it was pretty hard to setup and get working. You had to download and install it. You had to configure it. You had to manually find people to link to.

Due to the bolted-together-from-several-different-pieces nature of Office 365, we never really were able to get the pictures of people to work fully between Lync, Contacts and E-Mail in Office 365. Spending a few hours on the phone with Microsoft’s helpdesk in India was not something we looked forward to. We eventually gave up on getting the pictures working.

It is not that Lync is a terrible product. It would have been pretty exciting in the late 1990s. The problem is that Lync simply comes up short against the “It just works!” standard of current products such as Dropbox or Skype.

Microsoft now owns Skype and has obviously come to the same conclusion. I received the e-mail shown above and to the right a few weeks ago, outlining Microsoft’s plan to transition users to Skype.

Actually, for Asatte Press, the biggest problem turned out to have nothing to do with Microsoft’s product: We simply don’t need the instant messaging service much. Our employees work at our office and our office is tiny. When our employees are off the clock, they are off the clock. Our small business was not able to get much value out of instant messaging. Period.

File Sharing

Office 365 comes with Microsoft’s Sharepoint product. Like the instant messaging product, this would have been a very exciting product in the 1990s, but it has been passed by newer products in the marketplace.

Image of Teamsite showing No Way to get to Home from Team Site

No Way to get to Home from Team Site

To use Sharepoint, you had two choices:

  1. Web Client – We found the web client sluggish and hard to use. Multiple file upload worked only on Internet Explorer and then only on days when the stars were properly aligned. In a symptom of the bolted-together nature of Office 365, once you clicked on “Team Site” to access Sharepoint, there was no way to get back to your home page.
  2. Local Install – Microsoft also provide a local client for Windows. This client worked well, once setup and configured. However, it complains a lot about needing authentication (even when it is not running). This was again, a fairly heavyweight piece of software in terms of installation and configuration.

Our solution ended up looking like this:

  1. Subversion – Since we do a lot of software development, we spun up a Linux server image at a hosting provider and installed a copy of the open source source code control system called Subversion. For our technical users and for business critical files, Subversion provides version tracking, branching, merging and integration with trouble ticket systems (we use Mantis). However, subversion is a little tough for our non-technical users (but so was Sharepoint).
  2. Dropbox – For casual file sharing and non-technical users, we simply let people move things around with Dropbox. Dropbox is a wonderful example of excellent software development execution by a team dedicated to “It just works”

With Subversion, Mantis, and Dropbox in place, we really don’t have a need for Sharepoint.