Microsoft exposes dark side of the cloud

One of the supposed advantages of the using SaaS and other cloud services is the idea that someone else handles upgrades so that you don't have to worry about it.

Microsoft apparently didn't get the memo. It changed the business model for Office Live Small Business recently, and now the onus is on its subscribers to move over their Web sites, email, calendars and related content to Office 365.

Five years ago I set up a simple Web site for a nonprofit using Microsoft's Office Live Small Business. It was never a great fit, as they don't use any of the other OLSB services. But it was point-and-click easy for novices to use to manage a simple Web site -- and the cost was right: Just $15 per year including the annual domain name registration fee.

I was the first to see the "eviction notice." Microsoft papered a letter over the home page of the OLSB account stating that, effective April 30th, the service will be shut down and all user data associated with it will thereafter be "inaccessible."  To its credit Microsoft did give a respectable 90-day notice before bringing down the curtain.

Now Microsoft wants users to transition to Office 365, and it is offering OLSB users a six-month free trial.

Rebooting with Office 365

This being the cloud, one might think that the transition would be seamless. It's not.

The first hint of trouble came in the initial notification, which warned: "We highly recommend that you take steps to prepare for the transition by March 31, 2012, as there are specific actions you need to take."

Translation: We're not moving things for you. You are responsible for transitioning your own user accounts and content from our old cloud offering to our new one, and for getting it all configured properly.

Users are directed to download the "Self-transition Guide," a 21-page document that takes users through a lengthy series of manual migration steps for each existing email and calendar account, for the business' Web site, and so on.

For small business owners, all of this may seem a little bit scary, not to mention disruptive. For instance, small business owners may not take comfort in the warning that the required transfer of their custom domain can take up to 72 hours, during which time they won't have access to their Web site or email. And if the business used the default domain name address Microsoft offered ( it won't transfer at all. Many OLSB users are busy people. They didn't sign up for this. I can imagine many will recoil in horror. If they can afford it, they should probably hire a Microsoft partner to take this on.

Web site do-over

Since my organization only uses OLSB for its Web site, and since the new service starts at $60 per year, I figured that it's probably time to look for something else.

But initially I thought I would transition the Web site over to Office 365, just to buy time. Who knows? The organization might even like it, I thought. But that's just too much work to bother with.

Microsoft's solution for transitioning an OLSB Web site is to have you open two browser windows side-by-side and copy and paste the content between the old site and the new one. That just works for text, of course. Tables and other elements will need to be recreated.

It's the same drill for photos: Download 'em, then re-upload them into the Office 365 environment and place them all over again. As for the modules that you've embedded into the OLSB site (such as contact us, blogs, slideshow, etc.), those aren't supported in the new environment. You'll need to find the equivalent "gadgets" in Office 365 and set them up again.

Unfortunately, some modules have no equivalents, including blogs, event calendar, analytics and a few others.

If I'm going to got to all that trouble I might as well just transition to a service that specializes in Web site hosting. But even if my organization had been taking advantage of all of OLSB's services as a small business I would think twice about migrating to another Microsoft service. Today's Office 365 could be tomorrow's OLSB and here we go again...

The big fear with cloud services is that they'll go dark. But the more insidious one may be disruptive product transitions such as this one.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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