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Office 365: Prepare Yourself to be Upgraded

  • If you're an Office 365 customer, you're going to be upgraded soon
  • No one gets to vote about the upgrade - Office 365 is a cloud service and you lose that control
  • Much to look forward to, but I do hope that Microsoft updates Outlook Web App as I don't like the new version very much

We live in interesting times, or so we’re told. This is true right now for Office 365, which is about to go through the biggest software upheaval that has occurred in its short life to date when the Office 15 versions (Exchange 2013, SharePoint 2013, and Lync 2013) are introduced. Those of us who are Office 365 subscribers will get to experience the joys of migration for a cloud service. It should be interesting. Or something like that.

It is hardly earthshattering news that cloud services have upgraded to new software versions. I’m sure that Google has done this for Gmail and Google Apps. The difference here is that Office 365’s overhaul is far more obvious because of the mass of technical detail available about the on-premises versions of the products. Little public information is really available about the technical underpinnings of Google’s products, so we can’t speculate about Google in the same way that we can ponder about what will happen when Microsoft introduces Exchange 2013 into the datacenter. For instance, how Microsoft will cope with the reduction in databases supported by a mailbox server from 100 to 50 (add a heap of new servers?) or how much use “modern” public folders or site mailboxes will get.

In any case, the migration won’t happen overnight. Control is one of the things that you give up when you move to a cloud service. This is understandable because the cloud vendor is in charge of running a massive multi-tenant service and you can’t expect to have a vote over how things are done. According to the guidelines available online, Microsoft will advise its enterprise (plan E) tenants two weeks before the upgrade is scheduled for their domain. This lead-in time is intended to be used to prepare users for the upgrade – for instance, you might want to look at the new Outlook Web App UI and tell users what to expect after the upgrade is performed. A tenant can postpone an upgrade for a “minimum of two months”, which indicates the complexity of the scheduling that must happen behind the scenes to line up tenants for upgrade. You can only postpone once.

Small businesses (Plan P) follow a similar process for the totally automated upgrade. Again, one postponement is allowed, but it seems like you won’t be able to postpone for as long as enterprise customers can.

None of this is particularly surprising. Office 15 is coming. It will be deployed to Office 365. You will use it. After all, one of the reasons why people sign up for cloud services is to use “evergreen software” and to avoid the mundane and sometimes mind-eroding boredom of preparing to deploy yet another software upgrade. There might be mutterings when Google changes how Gmail behaves (and they have done so many times in the past), but everyone sucks it up, continue working, and promptly forget about why they worried about the change. Such is the way of the cloud.

I have confidence that Microsoft will execute the upgrade efficiently and I am looking forward to using the Wave 15 products. The only problem is that I don’t think that the new version of Outlook Web App is as good as its predecessor. Sure, it boasts “app” support and works offline, but I use Outlook for offline access anyway and am not really interested in the apps. Even after six months of using Outlook Web App with Exchange 2013 (the on-premises version), I dislike the new user interface.

Perhaps Microsoft will surprise us all with a revamped Outlook Web App as part of the Office 365 upgrade. It’s happened before when they did a great job of rewriting the application between Exchange 2010 and Exchange 2010 SP1. I guess that I live in hope.

Follow Tony @12Knocksinna

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