Office Live: bit of a disappointment

I’ve been looking forward to the Office Live beta launch for a while now.

We have employees and volunteers all over the country. We need to share calendars, tasks, contacts and comments in the most efficient way.

Our needs:

  • WindowsXP based (so no suggesting iCal or the like)
  • Hosted. Not going to set up a server any time soon.
  • Very intuitive interface. Anything that doesn’t directly apply to our company’s needs has to be out of the way for most users.
  • Permissions set on calendars, tasks and contacts. I need to be able to control who sees what. I need to be able to look at others’ calendar without bringing their data into mine or combining their appointments into a group calendar.
  • Document storage and collaboration.
  • Under $50 per month.

I got my ticket into the Office Live beta yesterday, and so far I’m disappointed. I’m not interested in using Office Live for our public website. I’m only interested in the shared/collaboration features for our company.

Pictures and opinions to follow for the interested…

We currently use WebOffice (formerly, now owned by WebEx. Office Live’s Collaboration features have been promoted to compete with WebOffice, but so far I don’t see it. What am I missing?

Here’s what I like about WebOffice.

Those of use who use Outlook can sync our calendars, tasks & contacts with the service. That way, when I’m on the system and I’m scheduling a meeting I can click “check availability” and see what time blocks work best for everyone.



The interface is intuitive right out of the box. I think any user regardless of their technical level can clearly see what each button does.


What does this tell a non-technical user who just wants to see common contacts?


It tells me I have a lot of configuring to do before I can share this with my colleagues. I need to remove quite a few of the applications that will only work for a for-profit business, and I have to change some of the header names (they’re not “Accounts”, they’re “Donors” for example). I’d love to see a version of this preconfigured for small nonprofits at some point, but I’m not holding my breath.

WebOffice works better if you link it with Outlook, but it’s not necessary to do so. Other applications include polls, discussion groups and databases that we don’t use all that often. We do use the Documents section for files and we generate Expense Reports.

I’ve been clicking around Office Live for the past day and I can’t figure out how to import contacts. I’ve never used an Exchange server or SharePoint before, and the early documentation is terrible. I can link to my Outlook address book and select one contact at a time, but how do I bring in my entire “C3” contact folder to use as the company contact database? I have no idea. You can edit any database directly in Excel which is a great feature, but how do I get the data from Excel, aside from copy/paste? I have no idea. I see that I can have Office Live company calendar and tasks as a shared folder in Outlook, but how do I see a colleague’s schedule? I have no idea. The help menu is beyond useless. Note to Microsoft: repeating the same information in the tool tip that’s already in the label of the field is really not much help.

So if WebOffice is so great, why am I trying Office Live?

The sync utility that comes with WebOffice is a customized version of Intellisync. Works very well, but no way to schedule the syncs to happen automatically. You have to manually remember to do it. I had hoped that I could simply “plug-in” my Outlook data to Office Live and have it be there the way it is with WebOffice. Not quite.

We get a lot of use out of the WebOffice activity log feature in the contacts database:


This is a great way to CYA as well as make sure that we’re all on the same page with dealing with a contact/donor. However, there is no way to set permissions on the contact database so I’m constantly reminding folks to be careful about what they type in an activity log…anyone in our system can read it. I’d also like a way to see a list of all activities logged by date. The way WebOffice works now, you have to go to the contact to view the history, rather than saying “Now who did I talk to today?” and pulling it up that way.

I had hoped that the advanced CRM features of Office Live would allow for more control than WebOffice. Maybe it does. If I can get the (bleeping) contacts in there to begin with.

WebOffice has a nice document management interface that uses Windows Web folders to keep in sync with desktop files, if one prefers to do so. We have a lot of common files stored. The disadvantage is in version control and collaboration. Files are checked in/out, edited with Word/Excel outside of WebOffice and then re-uploaded. I’ve always longed for a combination between WebOffice and Writely where documents can be edited right on the server. I have to admit, I do like the way Office Live does this and it’s the one feature I’ve been able to figure out that’s pretty cool. It’s Windows SharePoint services so collaboration is easier. However, I don’t see how to create folders in the Shared Documents menu.

And the beta means “buggy”. Office Live is constantly asking me to log in after a period of inactivity and it ignores my checking on the “Sign Me in automatically” button. When you’re changing site settings, there’s no feedback on what site you’re changing. Yesterday contacts I brought in were all showing that they were from “Alabama” but that seems to have been fixed now.

I’ll keep my ear to the ground to see if there’s folks out there using this service better than I am so I can learn how to use it correctly. But so far, I can’t see any way that I can deploy this to my organization. Isn’t the point of this to appeal to small businesses who don’t want to hire a geek?