Many Office Live Small Business users fret over Office 365 transition

The e-mail and website hosting service will close on May 1, and many customers are finding the move to Office 365 technically complex

Many companies that rely on Office Live Small Business (OLSB) for their e-mail and website hosting are complaining that a required transition to Office 365 or to a third-party hosting provider is too complicated for them to carry out and that Microsoft could be doing more to help them out as OLSB's closure date fast approaches.

A cloud-hosted service, OLSB, will close on April 30, and customers have the option to move to Office 365 or to another hosting provider, but discussion forums and blogs are lit up with posts and comments from stressed-out users who are having a hard time carrying out the transition.

For these customers, the issue is critical because it involves their business' website and e-mail communications.

Asked for comment, a Microsoft spokeswoman pointed out that the company announced that Office 365 would replace OLSB in October 2010, and that it is actively communicating with OLSB users via e-mail and official discussion forums and websites, like this official "transition center."

"We are offering OLSB users six months free of Office 365 for professionals and small business and Office Professional Plus to help ease the transition. We are providing comprehensive guidance, videos and support to make the transition from OLSB to Office 365 or another provider as straightforward as possible," she wrote via e-mail.

Microsoft is also suggesting that OLSB customers can tap Microsoft partners to assist with the migration.

Rebecca Wettemann, a Nucleus Research analyst, said that so far her company's analysis of the use of Office 365 by small businesses shows that the benefits of Office 365 "far outweigh the costs."

"Cutting down on the number of competing services helps Microsoft keep support costs lower. OLSB may have been cheaper but SMBs looking at the upside of 365 are likely to find one of the packages compelling -- and smart ones will sharpen their negotiating skills to get Office 365 and the transition at a price point that makes sense," she said via email.

Still, critical OLSB users say that Microsoft could have come up with automated tools and processes to aid in the transition, and that the cost of hiring a partner will further add to the higher cost of Office 365, as compared with OLSB.

OLSB users are particularly peeved at the process of migrating their OLSB-hosted and designed websites over to Office 365. Microsoft indicates that OLSB users copy and paste their web pages over to Office 365, but many users are reporting formatting problems in the transition, especially if the websites have custom design features.

According to the Microsoft spokeswoman, there is one partner called CloudVisors that recently developed a tool for automatically transitioning OLSB websites to Office 365. CloudVisors is offering a 50 percent discount to OLSB users -- a special fee of $199.95.

Asked why Microsoft didn't automate the migration more, the spokeswoman said: "After evaluating all the options, we chose the route we feel works best for the largest numbers of OLSB users."

Customers are also grumbling about the cost comparison between OLSB and Office 365. OLSB is free, with optional fee-based add ons. In comparison, the Office 365 plan for small businesses, called P1, costs $6 per user, per month, and more if customers add the option of Office Professional Plus, an upgrade over the standard Office Web Apps.

To be fair, the Office 365 P1 plan offers significantly more capabilities and features than OLSB, as detailed by Microsoft in this comparison. Office 365, a cloud-hosted communication and collaboration suite, includes online versions of Exchange, Lync, SharePoint and Office in its P1 version.

The issue is whether OLSB customers will find themselves paying more for Office 365 for features that they don't need and won't use.

"OLSB appealed to a lot of different people, especially because of the free website. Office 365 is targeted at meeting the needs of small business owners and professionals. Many OLSB customers won't see Office 365 as a good fit, especially since Office 365 isn't free," reads a webpage in the official OLSB website.

In that page, Microsoft clearly states that OLSB customers that use a custom domain for their email and website must "move that domain off of OLSB and onto a new provider. You can choose Office 365 or any other provider you want."

Added the Microsoft spokeswoman: "We encourage OLSB users to give Office 365 a try and see if it meets their needs."

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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