I’m supporting several businesses using Microsoft Online Services to host their Outlook mailboxes. It’s been very satisfying in almost every way. For a small monthly subscription fee, small businesses can get the full value of Exchange Server:

MULTIPLE COMPUTERS The same Outlook folders can be displayed on multiple computers at multiple locations. You can use your Outlook folders seamlessly from a desktop computer at the office, a desktop computer at home, and a notebook computer on the road, and Outlook is always up to date at all locations.

MULTIPLE LOCATIONS Office workers can be linked together and share Outlook folders even if they are in different offices.

WEBMAIL Outlook folders can be accessed online through Outlook Web Access – full access to all Outlook folders presented in Internet Explorer, like other webmail services.

PHONE Windows Mobile 6 devices can sync email, calendar, and contacts over the air continuously.

SHARING Calendars and address lists can be shared with other people in the office.

SECURITY Microsoft provides virus and spam filtering.

REDUCED COSTS Microsoft is responsible for backups, database maintenance, security updates, and upgrades.

Recently the system was upgraded to support Outlook 2003 as well as Outlook 2007. Each mailbox has a default size of 5Gb (and can be expanded), and MOS now supports file attachments up to 30Mb. Service for my clients has been smooth and uneventful.

With one exception.

Access to a mailbox on Microsoft Online Services is controlled by a password. Microsoft provides a slick utility to memorize the password on each computer so it doesn’t have to be manually entered each day. After a few days or a week, most people forget that there’s a password at all. (The password has to be entered to use Outlook Web Access but many users never open their mailbox outside the office.)

And that’s where the problem comes from. Microsoft has an inflexible security requirement: passwords have to be changed every 90 days. The passwords have to be complex (lower case, upper case, numbers) and no portion of the old password can be reused for a long time.

It’s driving people nuts! The process to change the password has been a bit confusing for some people but the real problem is just the concept – many people just don’t want to think about passwords and they resent having to deal with it. They procrastinate when the reminder comes up until one day their mailbox won’t open.

I’m not going to present the reasons that I think this is a reasonable security requirement. You can guess what I’d say. But I can tell you that I’ve got a calendar entry for most of my MOS clients every 85 days to help them get through password changes before they have a chance to get frustrated.

Just a reminder: I am a Microsoft partner authorized to sell and support Microsoft Online Services. If you’re interested, please call me or drop me a note! I do not need to be in your geographic area to assist you with this.

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