So, as you might have gathered from the title, I’ve switched away from Google for my E-Mail, along with Calendar and contacts, I figure a post on how I went about it is in order.
Firstly, my setup, and thus how I picked Office365 to replace Google Apps for Domains.
I have a Mac, and use Mail.app, Contacts.app and Calendar.app on there. I have an iPod Touch and an iPad, where again I use the default apps. My Phone is a Blackberry (OS 7, not 10 – this becomes important later). When using Google to house Email, Contacts and Calendar everything worked, and I linked my Facebook Account on the Blackberry to my Contacts application so my contacts had display pictures and additional contact information.
I only require one account, with a custom domain name. I may add further domain names in future.
The vast majority of my contacts are simply a name and email address. Others are a name and phone number. A scant few have both email and phone – unless they are linked up with Facebook.
Evaluation of Options
I wanted, as I stated before, a hosted solution. A friend recommended Intermedia to me, however they now require a minimum of 3 accounts which makes the initial cost of an account for me at about £18 per month. I also considered running my own contacts and calendar software, and going with a less full featured email service such as FastMail. Software I looked at included OwnCloud and Baikal. However none of the software for Calendar seemed particularly well designed – the web UIs were often lacking or non existant.
Looking, as I mentioned into Microsofts’s own solution. At £5.60/month I get unlimited storage, and a full email, calendar, contacts house. An additional bonus – important for me, is that it includes complimentary access to Blackberry’s Business Cloud Service. BCS is kind of a slightly scaled down version of Blackberry Enterprise Server, that Blackberry host themselves, and is directly integrated in to Office365 if you choose to enable it. This is vital as adding the Office365 account to your Blackberry Internet Service only synchs the Email, and not the calendar or contacts. Both of which are pretty essential for my phone to achieve its purpose.
Having selected Office 365’s Hosted Exchange plan, I signed up and paid my first £5.60. The signup was quick and smooth, as was the account creation. When you sign up you initially get to choose a subdomain underneath onmicrosoft.com for your account. You cannot remove or change this subdomain, but it’s free to add your own domains to the solution, and assign users to the correct domain name. Once the account was set up I setup access to the default subdomain account on my devices, and sent an email to check everything could work. This necessitated enabling, and setting up my Blackberry Cloud Services account.
Blackberry Cloud Services
This is the only negative experience I’ve had. This was the first time I got an error – when it tried to load their administration panel. It fixed itself on a refresh, but still. In addition, unlike Office365 it is not a sleek UI. It is very much a business/corporate designed UI. It reminds me very strongly in fact of this comic image. Every navigation element leads to a giant search form with many options. Naturally, in my use case, with only one account and one Blackberry, I’d prefer just to see my user details straight away. That said, my use case is obviously not the primary target for this tool.
Once I’d searched for my user and selected myself from the search result list, I checked through the options given for configuring a Users Profile. On a Blackberry, this profile can control every little thing that the device and users can do. It allows specifications of device passwords, remote wiping, separation of work and personal apps (to the extent of disabling copy-paste between the two domains). Naturally, this web tool only provides a fraction of the power, and the default options were fine in my case. Thus I used the option to send an email with an activation password to my email. On the Blackberry I had to download the ‘Enterprise Activation’ app, and use the password provided to associate my blackberry.
All the testing emails worked fine. So I set about doing the actual migration
Doing the Migration
The first thing was adding my domain to the Office365 account. This was incredibly simple, and contained helpful instructions on updating the DNS to verify ownership, and enable specific services, for a variety of domain name service providers. Having verified my domain, and activated it for my Exchange account I reassigned my user to use my own domain instead of the onmicrosoft.com subdomain. That done I removed Googles Records from my DNS. I then set up the email migration. Again, Office365 had an excellent Wizard that catered for a variety of Exchange-Exchange migration situations, and a generic IMAP importer for other situations. I went with the IMAP route naturally. After providing the domain and IMAP server, I uploaded a CSV containing the details of the accounts to migrate (one in my case), and set the import going. With 27,000 odd messages it took a few hours for my account to fill up – so many messages due to the way GMail handles its tags system over IMAP. Each tag is its own folder, and messages are duplicated across the ‘folders’.
I then used my own Google Account to export my Contacts into a .csv file which I then imported directly into my own account, again without any issue.
The Calendar app however as far as I can see has no built in import function. Trying to use Calendar.app to export my Google Calendar, and reimport it into my Exchange Calendar with its own import function caused an error. As I don’t actually have any future appointments scheduled at the moment, this is bearable. My history is currently only viewable on my Mac as I imported it into a local Calendar. For those with future appointments though that could well be a stumbling block, or possibly a deal breaker). You may be able to use Google Calendar to ‘share’ the calendar to the Exchange one, but I didn’t investigate that option as the loss is minor.
Having imported everything I updated all my sync settings to point to the new domain, and everything was pulled down fine. I ended up with Duplicate Contacts in some instances, but Merging them when they showed up on a device was sufficient. My Blackberry I had to remove the syncs entirely as it was still trying to sync to my old account as well. After wiping out all the contacts locally and re-enabling sync to my new account everything seems to work.
I went to re-enable Facebook-Blackberry integration, only to discover that this option is disabled by Blackberry Business Cloud Service. It’s configurable in the full BES package, but it is one of the things they removed in this not-quite-BES-in-the-cloud version. For now I have simply enabled Facebook integration on my Mac and iPod/iPad. The information added by these isn’t synched up into Office365, so my Phone contacts aren’t Facebook integrated at the moment. Microsoft however do have US only facebook integration directly in Office 365. Hopefully that will come through soon. Either way, Facebook contact integration on the phone is only a nice to have and didn’t really benefit me aside from the display pictures.
I did however enable LinkedIn integration in Office365, which pulled in additional contacts into my contact list.
Everything went better than expected. Office365’s Exchange component is fast, sleek and very nice to use. The only things that went wrong are a lack of Calendar import; and the Blackberry which had by far the most issues in all aspects of the migration. Something that can be laid firmly at Blackberry’s feet. That said, BBOS10 doesn’t have BES, but instead integrates with Email, Calendar et al over standard protocols (hopefully reducing those issues?).