Why Microsoft is wrong to discontinue Small Business Server

Small Business Server 2003

As an IT consultant who delivers services to small and medium businesses, I have spent a vast amount of time with Microsoft’s Small Business Server product range. Early versions of SBS (the original “Back Office” incarnation and SBS 2000) had various quirks and problems. Since SBS 2003, however, Small Business Server has been a refined, solid and well-behaved product – the kind of product you can put into a business with confidence, with a good set of features and a high level of configurability.

With this in mind, I was actually quite sad to hear the news that Microsoft decided to discontinue the product range, on the grounds that “small business computing trends are moving in the direction of cloud computing.”

I don’t deny that there is “trend” toward the cloud. Indeed, I have clients who have migrated to Office 365 instead of moving to SBS 2011. However, just as many have no interest whatsoever in migrating to the cloud.

One client said,

“Our last system has been perfect for four years, we just want the same, but newer, and we’re not interested in the cloud.”

Another took one look at how long it took to save a large file via Office 365 on their broadband internet connection and laughed in my face.

Then there are the clients who cannot risk the data protection implications of cloud storage, those who simply have an objection to paying a monthly fee and those who are put off by the fact that, with the best will in the world, it’s going to take weeks to migrate their existing 500GB of file data.

Microsoft have effectively decided to abandon all these customers, and I’m sure that every one of the thousands of IT consultants just like me have plenty of them.

Now, I have no doubt people will be keen to point out that Microsoft has announced an “Essentials” version of Server 2012 aimed at small businesses. I accept I could recommend this to some of my clients, but it only supports up to 25 users. What about the 25-75 user segment of SME who could previously use SBS? They are now on the same licensing model as a large corporation, which doesn’t seem very fair. And what about Exchange and SharePoint?

Let’s be clear: I’m not “anti-cloud.” I use hosted Exchange myself. I have migrated companies when it has been a good fit, and I would recommend it to plenty of startups, but I think Microsoft’s decision to try to force SME in the Office 365 direction is misguided and out of touch with reality. What it will do is lead them to discover simpler, cheaper alternatives like iCloud, Dropbox and Google Apps.

Small Business Server allowed me to swoop into a company and give them an IT system that made them feel like they were working for a large corporation. When they wanted to use features like public folders and decent shared contact lists, they were there waiting. I’m sure people will disagree, but working on an Office 365 is simply not the same.

Microsoft has taken away my ability to provide the perfect system without compromises. If I have to cobble solutions together for clients, then I may well end up doing so without so many Microsoft products. Given that Apple seem to be winning over the consumers, it seems insane that Microsoft seem willing to risk letting go of the SME market too.

Google+ Pages for Businesses — the Good and Bad

Google just announced that Google+ Pages for Businesses are here, finally allowing a flood of brands and celebrities to create yet another social network outlet for interacting with customers and fans. At a glance, Google+Pages is shockingly simple and seems to offer almost no difference from the standard profile all users get upon joining, but there are a few details that are bound to make things interesting (for better or worse).

The Good

Unsurprisingly, the strength of Google+ Pages lies in Circles. Businesses can designate VIPs, team members, repeat customers, and even other people/Pages that they choose to follow. Better yet, with the Circles architecture, businesses can communicate with specific subgroups of its customer base without making it publicly visible.

Google+ Pages definitely has the upper hand on Twitter by offering the same Picasa-driven album support regular users get. Google+ Pages even trumps Facebook with easily switching between Page profiles as an administrator. And who can forget Hangouts? One of Google+’s initial draws was the ability for real-time video chat with friends. Google brought the same functionality to Pages, which is an obvious advantage that Google holds over both Facebook and Twitter. Mobile Hangouts are not yet available for Pages.

Perhaps the strongest feature of Google+ Pages as of now is what Google calls Direct Connect. With Direct Connect, Google+ users can simply enter “+BusinessName” into the Google search engine, and if a Page exists for that business or celebrity, it will automatically be added to the users’ Circles. Businesses with a Google+ Page will almost certainly enjoy priority indexing in classic search for users to access their Page.

Easily switch between your personal and business profiles

The Bad

Being in its infant stages, Google+ Pages holds the obvious downside that there is currently no way of promoting a Page within the social network. While Pages offers tools for promoting a Google+ Page from an outside website, like badges and +1 buttons, paid advertising is still unavailable.

Another key difference between Google+ Pages and Facebook is that Pages have no way of customizing non-post content. Many companies on Facebook have created customized landing pages that would be impossible to replicate within Google+. However, Google+ has released an expanding platform API, so perhaps it’s just a matter of time until Google+ Pages gets some added content flexibility.

One important issue that needs to be addressed with Google+ Pages is that there is no verification process, and just about anybody could create a profile for any business. Nab your profile before somebody else does!

A final small but annoying problem is that currently Google+ Pages only supports a single administrator per Page. If somebody finds a way to get around this, please let me know!

Limited content options for Business

Other Considerations

The big question for businesses is how Google intends to let them easily advertise to the growing crowd of 50+ million users that Google+ has accrued in its first few months. At the moment, the ease and demographic specificity of Facebook Ads is unmatched, so it will be interesting to see how Google displays ads within Google+ and streamlines its Google Adwords platform for use in its own social network.

Google+ is now a part of Google Apps, so it’s clear that Google is making a serious effort to promote Google+ as a business tool in addition to a typical social network. Google+ Pages has some ground to cover, but with promises of features being rolled out in typical Google fashion, Facebook and Twitter will have to admit there is another social player in town for businesses.