Ubuntu and Office365 - it works

Moving from Microsoft to Linux – a small business view

My wife used to work for a small business, just her and her boss.

She had worked for large companies that owned their own IT departments and was used to ICT that worked* (the usual caveat for ICT..)

Working in a small business was an eye opener for her, she went from having a telephone support to having none.

Luckily for her and him and unluckily for me, at the time she joined the company I was injured and at home recovering from surgery. I was able to help with both purchasing and setting up of clustered servers to host a CRM and other related business software.

The company got free ICT support because it helped my wife; it also kept me from being bored.

Due to him being an intractable Yorkshire man (I can say that because I too am one..) her boss ran all his laptops/PC’s on Windows OS’s while everything I had access to, servers, laptops and PC’s that my wife worked on all ran variations of Linux – Ubuntu..

The time required to support Linux was vastly less than that of Windows, just the odd apt-get upgrade and hey presto.. I also insisted that all email transactions were done via a browser rather than a thick client, again needing less support and reducing exposure to any virus.

When my wife eventually left to set up her own business (http://hesslepetservices.co.uk) I carried on with the free support to her ex boss as it didn’t take up too much of time and I enjoyed helping out.

Earlier this year my arguments ref. Linux finally worked – he agreed to move over to Linux for all his ICT equipment. He’d had enough of the nagging from MS to upgrade but when he tried to his equipment wasn’t powerful enough.. He’d had enough of his laptops running slow because most of the processing power was being consumed by virus checking instead of the applications he used for productivity and he had enough of being constantly worried about ransom-ware.

I started work on this move a few month ago, I’d written up a project plan (seeing as that’s one aspect of my day job) and we went through a timetable of what was required and when.

It required him to bring along his laptops so we scheduled it for a Friday when I was off work.

I planned to use just the current Ubuntu desktop image along with Xubuntu just in the case the laptop was having issues with Unity.

Originally I suggested Google for business as it was a simple and good setup but he was adamant he didn’t want Google, a step too far?

So we agreed that he open an account on Microsoft’s Office365 which included the full office suite along with a quality imap based mail box.

The day arrived and I set to work; the laptops were converted to Linux in about hour – at the same time I set up the Office365 account (painful)..

The problems then started..

When we originally looked at Office365 it had an outlook like interface for email, this was the main reason for choosing the product as the time/effort required for learning a new product was low – something that was high on the list!

When we got it all up and working we found that we were limited to the hotmail style interface, something he was dead set against – this meant no web interface..

So since then I’ve spent the last xx days trying to find a replacement – I’ll carry on with that story in a minute.

Now the office suite that he paid for – he wasn’t bothered about, it was really all about the mail box.. So instead I installed WPS’s suite of products which include superb word processor and spreadsheet applications that are compatible with Microsoft’s formats.

I removed Office Libre to make sure the file associations stayed with WPS.

I also installed software to help with remote support.

So we now had laptops that had a browser, word processor, spreadsheet and remote support software – nearly a working office for him..

Next up – email..

It took a bit of time but I found evolution the better product for a near outlook like experience, not something I’d be aiming for but something he wanted.

We’re having a few issues with connections to the Office365 IMAP servers from his home and I’m not sure if it’s the Evolution version (3.18) or the actual broadband connection.

The symptoms are when opening up Evolution, it sometimes does a good connection and refreshes the IMAP folders without an issue but most times the connection hangs and finally fails with a DNS issue. I’ve change Ubuntu’s DNS settings to use Google’s DNS servers as I’ve always found them quicker than the ISP’s DNS.

This may be related to all sorts of issues one of which is the fact he runs both a wifi and hard-wired connection to the laptop.. I need to do more investigation; it may also be down to the age of the laptop.

I’ve still got one of the laptops at my house running evolution 3.10 and it connects every time to the IMAP box and has no problem refreshing the folders.

I’m going to deliver this laptop on Saturday and we’ll see if it works.. *See update below

Evolution email client
Evolution email client

So the final piece of the jigsaw is his Apple iphone, I’m not an Apple fan..
I set him up with the official Office365 outlook app which he’s been using for the last few weeks, he’s not too happy with it but can work without a hitch.
I’ve also connected up the Office365 account up to his Dropbox account so he can seamlessly pick quotes from within the app, this has reduced his time to react to requests for quotes as he can respond at anytime from anywhere.

Overall the transition from Microsoft based products to alternatives has been successful; he’s using Ubuntu without an issue and loves the speed of the system on his old laptop.

The irony of moving away from Microsoft’s OS to Ubuntu but using Microsoft’s applications for business hasn’t been lost on me but their productivity software has always been great. I’ve yet to find an alternative to AD for control of large suite of PC’s and their exchange servers are great for large organisations – I’ve been impressed with the whole setup of Office365 and its admin functionality.

The only gotcha was the 24hour delay when changing from the Microsoft based default email address to the user provided domain. It’s hiding in the small print and caused a bit of an issue..

So – if you’re a business thinking of moving from Windows to Linux, seek advice and if you feel it right then give it a go.. On this occasion the outcome has been positive.
*UPDATE – it turns out it due to the fact he’s got two internet connections and two routers. He’d joined the laptop to both networks, the routers are sat next to each other (!?!?!) and so were competing in terms of signal strength.. The network kept dropping and reconnecting to the other network..

So I made him forget one of the networks and unplug the Ethernet – everything now works.. One network at a time is the answer..


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