Moving from Google Apps to Office 365 - A meditation and guide for small businesses

Posted by: Keith Patton | 01 February 2014

For years, I’ve been using Google apps and services with abandon, free and easy, until something odd happened earlier in the year. In short, Google simply stopped caring about small businesses like us. It just appeared a spiteful move to attack or thwart Microsoft in some way, but it left a bad taste in my mouth, and I vowed to do something about it.

They have every right you say, it’s their business and they can do what they like. Absolutely, and that is why we, as a previously loyal and dedicated customer of Google have decided to up and over to Microsoft’s wildly popular Office 365 alternative.

Aside from the politics then why? Well, it works really well with Windows Phone and Windows 8 devices in general, far better than Google’s own services do. If you run Windows at all, it’s just hard to look past for the integration and support across your devices and team. The actual cost is very similar to Google Apps and there are great 1st party apps on other platforms (The Outlook app on iPad works a treat for example).

For me, stuck with Gmail on web I invariably tired of the endless browser tabs and ended up yearning for the old rich client days, so this is now a viable option again with Outlook 2013. (please don’t mention Outlook and Gmail to me in the same sentence!).

And don’t believe the FUD. The web offering is simple, easy to use yet powerful, search is great, the spam filter spot on. Microsoft are generally killing it with Office 365 , there’s nothing to be afraid of folks, they nailed this one.

Migration, aaagh!?

I knew all this but still took a good few months before I took the plunge, and the reason was simply that I thought the process would be hard and take time, and when you’re running a small business the last thing you need is hassles from this sort of migration. Thing is, it was actually pretty straightforward. I’ve put together a few thoughts and tips from our experience at least which will hopefully help.

Compare All Plans

Go here to compare all Office 365 plans (that’s NZ but you get the idea of what’s available from this page).

For us, and I suspect many other small businesses, the email and calendaring is the core of what you need. That is why we went for the Hosted email (Exchange Online Plan 1) option, it’s also fortunately the cheapest option!

[If I’m honest, I didn’t really see a lot in the Small business and Midsize business offerings, which are limited to total users and also in some respects more expensive. I recommend that most small businesses looking for mail/calendaring consider the Enterprise offerings (even if they aren’t technically an Enterprise like us!). There should in my view be a streamlined set of offerings on this page, it took me a while to figure out the best one. ]

One advantage of the Enterprise option, is that you can in the future upgrade from this plan to the “Office 365 Enterprise E1” plan which includes other Microsoft offerings such as OneDrive space, Lync conferencing and so forth. We’re not quite ready for that as we use ordinary Skype which works just fine. We also use DropBox for Business, which offers (right now) more advanced team sharing capabilities in our view for small businesses. We expect Microsoft are aware of this and look forward to reconsidering Office 365’s OneDrive offering later in the year.

As an aside, I hear a lot of chatter about Google Docs like it’s the only one to offer real time collaboration on docs. It’s something I think people talk more about than actually do, but did you know Office Web Apps offer this now as well? I’m not offering a guide to migration docs from Google Docs (as we don’t use it), but don’t be put off if you are worried about the collaboration functionality, it’s all there..

In summary, we get what we need now, and have a nice upgrade path in the future for many aspects of the stuff we would need as a growing business. You should totally consider Office 365 as a

First Steps - Have a Play

Purchase your first  account and for this you will have to chose a vanity domain such as marker.onmicrosoft.com. Leave the actual domain setup for later, use this one for testing and just making sure everything is working.

Once you have had a play around you can add your team’s accounts into Office 365 so they are all set up ready for migration.

We moved across email, calendar and contacts data from Google apps to office 365. The entire process took less than 1 week duration from start to end.

Moving Email - Connected Accounts and Migration Batches

Firstly, each user should go into their Gmail Settings and ensure that POP Email is enabled only for “mail that arrives from this point”.  Then, each user can login to Office 365, go to Options (via little cog in top right) and select an option called “connected accounts”.  It’s then possible for a user to add a connected account for their Gmail, ensuring that during the email transition all new email sent to their Gmail account is flowed through into their Office 365 account. However, note that this only works with POP, so only the Inbox is synced across! See here for more on Connected Accounts.

Secondly, so what about all that historical email and all those folders you’ve created over the years? Easy. As administrator of your Office 365 account go to https://outlook.office365.com and then Admin > Exchange. There you will see a special tab called “migration”, and when you click on it you will have the option of adding a migration batch. This allows you to upload a csv file of all your Google users and it will go off and pull all their IMAP folders across from Google Apps into their respective folders inside each user’s account. This is essentially a one step migration for your entire company’s email across to the Office 365. See here for support article on migration batches.

Together, these 2 options dramatically simplified the whole migration process for email. I can see these options getting streamlined in some form one day, it would be nice to be set up the connected accounts for everyone as an admin in the same step as migration for example, but not too much of a hassle.

Exporting and Importing Calendar and Contact Data

Google finally started offering ability to export all your gmail data last year. Following this guide you can export all your calendars as .ics files, and also you can export your contacts as csv. Both of these formats allow easy import into Outlook.

It would be nice to automate this via migration batches, this was the one step that look the most effort as it requires each person to it themselves, but overall was pretty quick.

Changing DNS

Once all data has been migrated you are then free to add your own domain to Office 365, change the DNS and being using Office 365. We’re keeping our Google Apps accounts alive for a little while just to ensure everything is working smoothly and then they will be removed. Note that even if you suspend a user in Google Apps you still have to pay, so they will ultimately need to be removed if you don’t want to keep paying.

Conclusion

I hope this post gives you reason to pause and consider Office 365 if you are a small business like ourselves. The migration isn’t as hard as you think, the integration with Windows, Office and other platforms is great, and it’s affordable. Farewell Google!

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