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Posted on March 28th, 2012 by Barry Collins

Is Office 365 the best thing that’s ever happened to Linux?


Currently, my office PC is running the betas of both Windows 8 and Ubuntu 12.04 — a situation that is doubtless pushing Dennis Publishing’s IT manager a little closer to his well deserved nervous breakdown.

Yesterday, I spent the day working solely in Ubuntu 12.04 to see how the OS is progressing. I’m a big fan of the tweaks made to the Unity interface; the drop-down killing Head Up Display is tinged with brilliance if currently a little sluggish; and the Ubuntu Software Store is maturing nicely. However, there’s one thing I’ve always missed when working in Ubuntu: Outlook. Despite the protestations of the Linux faithful, neither Evolution nor Thunderbird — the two default mail clients in recent versions of Ubuntu — are a patch on Outlook when it comes to dealing with an Exchange Server.

The only other option was to worm in via Outlook Web Access, but because there’s no Linux version of Internet Explorer, you were forced to use the horribly rudimentary stripped-down version, which was spitefully designed to punish people who had the barefaced cheek to run Chrome or Firefox. The old version of Outlook Web Access made Lotus Notes look cutting edge: even basic tasks such as creating a meeting were akin to a colonoscopy, and you could literally make a cup of tea in the time it took to perform a basic keyword search of your inbox.

We now have access to the sparkly new Outlook Web App, which is like trading in a Datsun Cherry for a BMW 5 Series with alloy wheels

Recently, however, the aforementioned Dennis IT manager upgraded us to Office 365. This means we now have access to the sparkly new Outlook Web App, which is like trading in a Datsun Cherry for a BMW 5 Series with alloy wheels.

It’s not as sophisticated as Outlook 2010, but it’s not far short. Performance is excellent: there’s no more waiting 15 seconds for an email to open, search returns results a second or two after you hit Enter, and you can open attachments without having to right-click and save the file to a folder. You know, all the things other webmail clients (such as Gmail and even Microsoft’s Hotmail) have been doing since the dawn of the 21st century. It looks good too: the interface is attractive and uncluttered, although strangely doesn’t use the Ribbon interface that is now found in all of Microsoft’s other Office apps, both client and web.

As Jon Honeyball noted in a recent column on Office 365, the Outlook Web App might well be the only email client many people need. The only problem I had is that it doesn’t automatically fetch new email using Chrome in Ubuntu in the same way that it does when accessed via the same browser in Windows. Why, I simply do not know.

While I was experimenting, I decided to give the other Office Web Apps another go, having not used them in anger for the best part of a year. I had a 3,000 word feature to edit, so cut and paste it into the Word Web App and set about the task. The last time I tried the online version of Word, performance was a little sluggish when dealing with hefty documents. There was a slight lag between typing and seeing the words (some of them spelt correctly) appearing on screen, which was just irritating enough to put me off. Now, performance appears much smoother, even if the feature set is rudimentary compared to rivals such as Zoho. The Word Web App’s spellcheck, for example, is an unusable mess.

Nevertheless, I could quite happily edit the 3,000 word feature, safe in the knowledge that I wouldn’t get any of the odd formatting quirks that sometimes occur when you attempt to open a LibreOffice file in Word.

In short, Office 365 has made it much more practical for me to spend my working days in Ubuntu. I suspect that’s not a line you’re going to be seeing on Microsoft marketing material anytime soon, however…

Read our Complete Guide to Office 365 here

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21 Responses to “ Is Office 365 the best thing that’s ever happened to Linux? ”

  1. David Wright Says:
    March 28th, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    How does it cope with multiple users calendars? I generally have to look at between 5 and 10 calendars at the same time (the board, sales manager, my subordinates etc.).

  2. Duncan Murray Says:
    March 28th, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    You’re the first person to write about using Microsoft Office 365 on Linux. I gave it a go on my 10.04 copy of ubuntu and found it basic, but ok. Does this mean we don’t really need Windows anymore?

  3. antevans Says:
    March 28th, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    Full fat OWA 2010 works on Firefox 10, or 14, or whatever it is by the time you read this.

  4. TheBigM Says:
    March 28th, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    In the 99% of situations when the PC already has a copy of Windows on it, what advantage in today’s world does running linux on a client desktop give?

    In my experience today Windows and the applications that sit on it have matured enough that everything ‘just works’…most of the time. What more are we looking for?

  5. Martin Says:
    March 29th, 2012 at 10:32 am

    “Just works” or “Just about works”?

  6. David Wright Says:
    March 29th, 2012 at 10:56 am

    @TheBigM you can save a few quid by buying without Linux installed. You can save even more by buying diskless PCs and remote booting them off of an LTSP server – that also reduces the amount of screwing around the user can do to the system, every new start goes back to the standard image, only the user setting would remain; if the system is set up to even allow that.

    You could also set it to boot directly into Firefox or Chrome, with no access to the shell, for example.

    Very flexible for hotdesking environments, for example. Cheap hardware and the user can’t mess it up and any malware is automatically removed when the system is restarted.

  7. David Wright Says:
    March 29th, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Bah bah! Really having problems today…

    You can save a few quid by buying without Windows installed!

    Can we PLEASE get an edit facility in here, statt!

  8. Clive Pugh Says:
    March 29th, 2012 at 5:04 pm

    I’ve also asked for editing functions on PCPRO but so far no response from them.

  9. Oldmanpmc Says:
    March 31st, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    What a sad lot of individuals all messing about with Linux you must have a lot of time on your hands.
    I concur with TheBigM. My current windows 7 installation works fine, can’t remember the last time it misbehaved, oh and outlook has no real competition.
    Office 365 works on my Nokia Lumia 800 phone with the Metro interface which l leads me onto, windows 8, coming down the track. No doubt our ubuntu devotees (is that somewhere in Africa) will hate it already.
    Well I’ve seen the future, Win8 running on a Samsung Series 7 Slate PC, boots in about 10 seconds and the footprint is a fraction of Win7, Its brilliant and for those Mouse & Keyboard enthusiasts (like me) its great. Just imagine, if you will, a workstation with twin screens with just one a touch screen and the other Mouse & Keyboard. I don’t think Linux and derivatives will compete
    And for all those frugal Freeware devotees we are all about to be surprised by the giveaway price.
    So Get Real.

  10. David Wright Says:
    April 1st, 2012 at 9:24 am

    @Oldmanpmc You don’t need a lot of time for Linux, install it and use it, today, for most users, there isn’t much difference between using Windows, Linux or OS X – I use all 3 every day.

    I agree, there isn’t really any competition for Outlook, if you need all of its features – I’ve been using Outlook for over 15 years. KMail on Linux came very close, in terms of features, but didn’t work with Exchange Server, so the hotdesking wasn’t as seamless, although with mapped home drives under Linux, it worked well enough.

    KMail is also one of the few mail clients which can really handle conversations. Despite all Microsoft’s advertising, Outlook still can’t do conversations – oh, it can group emails with the same subject together and put it in chronological order, but the actual conversation threads are not shown.

    As to Windows 8 and touch, I don’t want touch on my desktop. I have enough problems with people “thinking” my 24″ monitor has touch and dabbing their greasy mits all over the screen – leaving me to clean the distracting smears off, once they have left.

    Touch works on a phone, because you can rub it on your shirt to remove the worst of the smears and read the screen. Rubbing a 24″ or 27″ display on your chest doesn’t work so well! Plus you have to stretch to reach the screen (in my case, I’d have to get up out of my seat every time I want to touch my screen.

    The Metro interface (not the Start Screen, that I like) is also not suited to large screens. Having played with Windows 8 on a 24″ display, Contacts, Email, Calendar and Solitaire look frankly ridiculous and insulting – along the lines of “oh, have you lost your glasses, grandpa, let me make that bigger for you, so you can read it!” That is not the way to gain fans. Also, things like contact lists, calendars etc. are things you want visible in the corner of the screen, whilst you are doing other things.

    Touch has its place, but it isn’t (currently) on the desktop, I still see limited use on a laptop as well.

    I need multiple windows for my work, more than I need touch.

  11. two00lbwaster Says:
    April 2nd, 2012 at 11:12 am

    Oldmanpmc, you must be a home user, you won’t see Win8 in any office any time soon. Windows 7 may even be the new XP in terms of longevity. Windows 8 is probably the new Vista, where they put it out and consumers are happy enough but business says try again MS we’ll have Win7 thanks.

    As for Linux, at home, there are free updates and upgrades to the software, and it’s free to procure. Thus you can extend the lifetime of that old XP/Vista PC and your webcam/printer/scanner combination that you can’t get drivers for anymore. There is less susceptibility to malware and it comes with some strange office type suite already, unlike the free 60 day trial that expired years ago. Of course, there is all the illegal software that you can pirate for Windows, including Windows itself, so cost probably doesn’t come into it :)

    For business there is less time and money spent finding and purchasing suitable AV for the business environment, less susceptibility to malware.
    It’s fast and works on older machines.
    And moving to SaaS over the web will mean that you can access your software and from pretty much anything anywhere.

  12. powernumpty Says:
    April 5th, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    Joking about the illegal software is fine until we reap the “Everyone Steals!” reward. Making theft normal is one aspect of the overpriced software market that has IMO done much to damage honest exchange. I think it is crucial to have everyone regardless of income able to use an operating system and applications without recourse to dishonesty, in that goal I see Linux as far ahead.

    I know it was said in jest but the underlying truth could explain the disconnect between rights and responsibility.

    I bet the leverage guys are going grey, how to make everyone pay and pay.

  13. Lestibournes Says:
    April 6th, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    For me the main advantage of using Ubuntu or even other Linux-based operating systems is that I like using it better. It simply feels better, and everything is better organized so I don’t have to wade through a disorganized mess.

    By the time Windows 8 is released you’ll find plenty of mature alternatives already on the market. Windows’ advantages for home users are that it comes pre-installed, it’s familiar, and it has the most apps. It’s not any characteristic inherent in the platform but merely the advantage of the incumbent. It’s that advantage that drives me to use Windows even though I like Ubuntu more. If only Netflix and Steam were available for Linux I’d have no use for Windows.

    Oh, and I forgot hardware support.

  14. Web Dude Says:
    April 9th, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    Many years ago, when a client had their server go belly-up with a corrupted hard drive holding several years of e-mail, I saved them a small fortune by recommending they try MDaemon, an alternative to MS Exchange.

    They tried it (first month free, while their disk drive data was being ‘recovered’ at a cost in the region of 5K) and liked it and avoided the need for the latest Exchange (and upgrades to all workstations).

    I think they saved around 15K by using MDaemon, and with annual costs on a fairly low level (with migration to newer, bigger servers once or twice over the next 10 years) and user satisfaction running high.

    Back then, MS Exchange didn’t offer access to users from the internet, only over the LAN, while MDaemon offered IMAP, POP, SMTP, etc and had its own web client so someone working overseas could use an office or hotel access and any browser to check their e-mail back at HQ in Chester.

    I can see how some firms would stick with Exchange and Outlook, but it reminds me of students in the 80s when I worked in education – they could use (say) Lotus 1-2-3 but put some other spreadsheet in front of them and they didn’t seem to have the capacity to just get on with ‘using’ it. They were too stuck in a rut.

    Unfortunately, with MS Office so widely used, many firms are stuck in that same rut, now, and don’t have the impetus / courage to try other solutions!

  15. Paul Says:
    April 11th, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    A slightly odd statement, surely: “Well I’ve seen the future, Win8 running on a Samsung Series 7 Slate PC, boots in about 10 seconds and the footprint is a fraction of Win7″

    The storage is solid state and a slate install will no doubt only have the core rather than all the fineries of a full install? So naturally, the footprint will be smaller and the boot time will be fast. An “eggs vs eggs” comparison would be better here rather than “eggs vs desk”? Unless I’m misunderstanding you?

  16. Al Says:
    April 15th, 2012 at 4:30 am

    Why is such a rush to do cloud computing?
    One day they change the policy, law or security breach and all your data is either free, not yours any more, or just open for grabs unless already patented.

  17. AndyB Says:
    April 18th, 2012 at 12:26 am

    You could try Thunderbird with DavMail, which is a outlook-web-access ‘proxy’. It sits in between the two and pretends to be a mail client to OWA and pretends to be a mail server to Thunderbird. Works pretty well, I ran it for a while as an experiment at my old Microsoft-only workplace. Nowadays, I just use Google’s calendars in Tbird and that does me, but if you must use Exchange, works very well.

  18. Paul Says:
    April 20th, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    @Al I think the term “cloud”is just being used to hide the fact that the technology is essentially the same as what is there already and has been there for ages, but re-branded to make people think that could != web, as “web” is associated with .com and its subsequent boom & bust. try asking the question “is it in the cloud, or web based?”

  19. Ross Hadden Says:
    January 4th, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    The fact that this is a horrendously bad business practice notwithstanding, Microsoft is using some sort of user-agent string whitelist. That is why it works in Firefox on Ubuntu but not Chrome (Chrome is served a stripped down version, akin to what Microsoft did before 365).

    I was able to get around this by spoofing the user-agent string, using a Chrome extension. I set it to:
    Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 5.2; WOW64) AppleWebKit/535.7 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/16.0.912.63 Safari/535.

    And now in Chrome I get the full app. Way to go Microsoft. Preventing users from using your product is a good step in improving your customer satisfaction.

  20. Timbalionguy Says:
    January 7th, 2013 at 3:39 am

    I tire of having to pay and pay for the privilege of using a predatory OS like any version od Window$. I switched to Linux many moons back, and never regretted it. Now, Linux-based stuff has moved beyond Micro$oft and will continue to do so.
    We are being forced to Office 365 for email here, so the Linux workarounds that exist are looking very interesting right now…
    And yes, I find most ideas of using the ‘cloud’ to be a very bad thing for business continuance!

  21. Neil Stuckey Says:
    March 25th, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    Oh i meant MS office might make a complete port in 2014. Google it it’s all over the web.


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