It often comes as a surprise to people that the guy from the Exchange Server Pro website would use Google Apps as his email provider, but the fact is I’ve been a Google Apps user for many, many years. In fact, as far as I can tell I started using Google Apps sometime in 2008.
There were a few reasons I went with Google Apps at the time.
- It was free (it no longer is)
- It had a decent user interface
- No need to mess about with email clients on my various computers
- It had some handy features for managing different sender addresses
- The spam filtering was very effective
Basically it did the job, and there were few if any alternatives out there worth looking at.
In 2011 Microsoft launched Office 365. I’d had some less than impressive experiences with their BPOS service before that, so I didn’t think too much of it at the time. All my work continued to be on-premises deployments of Exchange Server, and the thought of moving from a free Google Apps service I was happy with to a paid Office 365 service was not all that appealing.
In 2012 I was awarded as a Microsoft MVP for the first time. One of the benefits offered was a 1 year Office 365 subscription for a small number of licenses, that we can use for testing etc. Not having much free time I didn’t give it more than a quick look. Again all the local work I was doing was on-premises, though I was well aware that Office 365 was a big focus for Microsoft and my fellow MVPs in other parts of the world were doing quite a lot of work with it.
In the last few months I’ve been increasingly frustrated with some of the moves Google is making in various areas, and their email service in particular. They’re all little things, but they add up over time, and the last straw was an update to the Gmail app for iOS that turned a perfectly functional user interface into a horrible experience.
I decided to make the move to Office 365.
This was not just about getting away from Google Apps, there were several positive drivers for this decision as well.
- At $60/yr for the single user license I needed, it was on par with $50/yr for a Google Apps service only Office 365 also has Lync
- The “Wave 15” service is actually very good, running on Exchange 2013 and having an excellent Outlook Web App interface
- A small business I look after will be moving from SBS 2008 to Office 365 soon, so this lets me kick the tyres a bit
- I am a Microsoft IT pro, and as much as possible I like to stay in the Microsoft space despite all the ups and downs of this year (*cough*TechNet*cough*)
Now you might be wondering why price comes into if I get a free Office 365 subscription as an MVP.
Basically I want to own the license, purchased properly through the local channel, and not run into any problems later with my email sitting in a “trial” subscription in the wrong part of the world. $60/yr is no big deal when you look at it from that perspective.
I had a few false starts signing up due to an expired 30 day trial still attached to my account with Telstra (the Australian reseller for Office 365). After that was cleared up signup was quick and easy.
Adding and verifying a domain is done via the usual methods, such as adding a TXT record with a value that Microsoft provides to you. It was interesting to see that Office 365 can host your DNS for you. I really should have chosen that option as I then ran into problems adding all of the required SRV records to DNS using my DNS host’s admin interface. Eventually I found a solution for that though, and after changing my MX records to point each of my domains at Office 365 I started looking at my options for migrating all my email across.
There were three migrations options I considered:
- Using a Connected Account (basically pulls the mail across using POP or IMAP)
- Using the Office 365 migration tool (I did not end up trying this)
- Using MigrationWiz, a third party service (they have not paid me to mention them here)
First I tried the Connected Account method. This seemed to be working okay at first. Everything was being downloaded to the Inbox, which was going to mean a bit of tidy up afterwards, but that was not a concern.
Unfortunately after about 24 hours and only about half my email being migrated the process got stuck and nothing more came across. I thought perhaps I had run into one of the daily download limits that Google Apps enforces, but even after a couple more days it still wasn’t working.
Since I was considering MigrationWiz for the upcoming small business migration I decided to give that a try instead. At $11.99 for a “Premium” license it seemed like a good deal to me. An added bonus was the option to convert Gmail labels into folders, rather than everything go into one single folder. This can mean some duplicate items in the destination mailbox, but since most of my mail was either given a single label or none at all I didn’t see any serious problem there.
MigrationWiz has been a pleasant surprise. The process is not flawless, and some folks have mentioned a few caveats to me for certain scenarios, but for my needs it has done the job quite well. There has been a bit of tuning required to increase things like error limits, which will be of no surprise to anyone who has had to migrate an Exchange mailbox with a lot of bad items in it. In the end it did exactly what I needed it to do, brought across all of my email (minus a few errors) and turning labels into folders which has let me tidy up a lot faster than having everything dumped into one folder.
With the migration finished I am now settling in to my new Office 365 mailbox and doing a little fine tuning of spam settings and inbox rules. I’m using Outlook Web App most of the time, as well as the OWA app for iOS on my iPhone and iPad. As I get my mailbox organization back under control I will probably start using Outlook 2013 on my main computer as well.
As a side benefit of the move I also split out my personal domain name and attached that to Outlook.com, so my business and personal emails are now separate again.
Overall I am very happy. For all the drama lately with the perception that Microsoft is pushing everyone to the cloud, and that the cloud has too many cons to offset the benefits, I have to say that Office 365 is an excellent service and well worth considering.