How To Set Up Microsoft Office 365 Beta for Small Business

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Microsoft’s Office 365 beta is stirring up a lot of interest.┬áThe core of Office 365 is the Microsoft Office Web Apps. These are online versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote that work from any computer with a connected web browser. Office 365 takes the power to work remotely from any machine a step further by integrating messaging, collaboration and sharing features.

Using a free browser-only version of Microsoft Excel whenever the mood might strike is a wonderful thing. However, sharing still requires either getting everyone together at the same time in a conference room or emailing copies back and forth to everyone. It’s better than having an administrative assistant pass around photocopies, but just barely.

Office 365 combines the power of web apps with a collaboration environment. Now, when Joe creates a new Excel spreadsheet while using web apps from a computer he is using while on the road, he can have Dave take a look at the spreadsheet and make updates while Susan verifies that the numbers add up to an attractive profit margin, even if Dave and Susan are running the web app version of Excel too.

While this scenario is a no-brainer for many corporate environments running Office and a SharePoint server, it’s a tougher setup for your average IT-less small business. Office 365 runs all of the necessary software and applications in the cloud without the need to plant a complicated or expensive server in a corner of the office space.

Setting Up an Office 365 Team

If you are going to be sharing documents out on the cloud, you need to control who has access to them. With Office 365, security is handled by an administrator. Fortunately, administering an Office 365 environment for a small business is straightforward and uncomplicated. Any reasonably technologically savvy employee or owner should be able to figure it out.

Office 365 TeamThe person who first signs up for the Office 365 beta becomes the administrator by default. Other team members need not sign up directly. Instead, the administrator of the team or small business group creates the additional users, which serves both to avoid the headache of getting everyone signed up and to link all the users together as a team.

Additional administrators can be added later if necessary. Administrators have an additional tab at the top of their Office 365 desktop titled Admin. As you might guess, all the necessary administrator functions are here.

Clicking Admin brings up the administrator control panel. The options are limited, and that is a good thing. Office 365 is built to offer powerful collaboration and messaging without the need for a highly-trained computer administrator.

You can add users one at a time by clicking the Add users link at the top of the page. However, unless you only have a handful of team members, that can get old fast.

To add several users quickly, select the Users link under the Management heading in the sidebar. Click New and you’ll find a Bulk add users option. Use the comma-separated file template to populate all of the information necessary and upload it to create a list of users all at once. (If you are logged into your Office 365 account, you can use this link to get the file directly.)

When you’ve finished creating a user, the Office 365 system generates a password and emails it to the new user. The new team member is now ready to log on without having to go through the process of getting setup with Office 365 on their own.

Note that the email passwords are sent in clear text. If that makes you nervous, send the emails to your own account or to a null account. The username and password is displayed on the next page. Copy the credentials and then pass them on to the user in whatever secure way you prefer.

Setting Permissions and Licenses in Office 365

There are not a lot of options and permissions to get lost in with Office 365. There are just two main options. The first is whether or not the user has administrator permissions. An administrator can create new users, delete users and block and unblock users. Most importantly, an administrator can reset the passwords for users who forget them.

If you don’t want to be the only person getting emails and phone calls about password resets, you’ll need at least one other administrator. The other reason to have a second administrator is that they can reset YOUR password if, for some reason, you end up need a little assistance. Of course, only trusted users should be granted administrator access.

The other permission option is simply whether or not the user can currently use the services. Allowing and blocking users can be handy for changing who is involved; however, it is a global setting, so its use is somewhat limited.

Administrators can also determine which Office 365 functions a user can use by assigning licenses. A user without a Lync Online license, for example, cannot use the instant messaging and video conferencing features of Lync. Again, for most users, the choice is likely full access or no access, not allowed to use SharePoint features but not Exchange features. Unless a real need arises, don’t over-think this setting.

Under the More menu are the options to configure Mail and Lync. The most useful feature here is the ability to add additional email addresses for users. For example, a user might have both a direct email address and a generic email address such as [email protected] or [email protected] Additional email addresses are added under E-Mail Options.

Another feature to watch here is the size of each user’s email box. Microsoft Office 365 offers 25 GB of storage. While that should be plenty for most users, those who frequently send and receive large attachments might have an issue. The handy usage bar can be let the administrators know when users are approaching the threshold.

Keep in mind that these user settings are only the basic global settings. Further permissions are available for specific needs. For example, users can be assigned different permissions for the Team Site ranging from full control to View Only.

Creating users and getting a team up and running on Office 365 is easy and it shows Microsoft’s commitment to making the online collaboration platform usable by small businesses and groups without full-time IT staffers.

Office 365 is currently in beta and is available at office365.microsoft.com.

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