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Office365 & BT

BT Internet have recently started “upgrading” all their business customers to Office365. This causes various problems for many business users.

Problems

1) No choice

The first problem is that there was no choice to business users whether they upgraded or not. If BT had said “We have this fantastic new service you can use at no charge, do you want it?”, then all would be well, but instead they said “You are moving to Office365 whether you like it or not”.

2) No Notice

Secondly, most users did not know about it until after the fact. We have had many support calls about it, with people simply confused about why they weren’t receiving mail any more, or people who had only worked out what was happening after they’d contacted BT to find out where their mail was

3) No Information

Thirdly, BT did try to tell users after it had happened, by disabling their normal mail servers, and setting up a dummy POP3 server which just delivered one message, saying that their mail had been moved.

Unfortunately, this dummy POP3 server was not standards compliant, which meant that much client software could not understand what it was doing… It delivered a message without the mandatory blank line between the header and message body, also it did not use the mandatory line ending of CR/LF, meaning that a client which was waiting for the terminating CR/LF “.” CR/LF sequence, would be waiting for ever. (The fact that this dummy server got through BT’s testing is rather worrying, but that’s a different story)

4) Removed Functionality

Fourthly, for many users, it is actually a downgrade not an upgrade. Catch-all mailboxes are no longer supported, neither are normal aliases, SMTP relay from any address at a domain is no longer supported, etc. This means that it is suitable for people with one or two users who will individually use the Outlook Web-Access facility, or have individual POP3 accounts at BT with their email client set up to access that directly. However, it is no longer suitable for people who have their own local mail server.

5) Enhanced Requirements

Office365 requires SSL or TLS encryption on the connections. While this is widely supported nowadays, it is by no means universally supported by all client software. This is especially the case if you are using older client software, which may mean that you need to purchase an upgrade to that software, or even replace it with something totally different, with the expense and time that will take.

Now what?

So, if BT have ‘upgraded’ your account and you’re having problems, what can you do now?

1) Change ISP

Obviously, one choice would be to say good-bye to BT Internet altogether. While this may seem a bit drastic, it is a choice which some of our customers have taken, not just because of the reduced usefulness, but because of the way it was handled. If you do decide to do this, look around carefully when choosing a new ISP. A lot of the more famous ISPs are more suitable for home users than for businesses.

2) Start Using Office365 standalone

If you only have a couple of users, and have very low email requirements (eg no central administration, no lists, no archiving etc) then you may want to start using Office365 as Microsoft intended it, and set up your email clients to collect mail directly from the Office365 servers. Just be aware that if you have previously been used to having your own local mail server, such as our VPOP3 email server, then you will probably start missing functionality soon enough.

3) Use Office365 with your mail server

You could create multiple Office365 accounts, one for each of your users or aliases, and then in your mail server, set up multiple POP3 ‘collectors’ to collect  the mail from each of those Office365 accounts and distribute it to the relevant local user. If you have more than a few users, this will become very tedious and error-prone, and maintaining it (adding/removing users etc) will become time consuming.

4) Switch POP3 provider

You could switch to another POP3 catch-all account. Most business users using POP3 mailboxes before will have their own domain name, whose mail would previously have been directed to a catch-all account at BT. You should be able to easily redirect that mail to another POP3 catch-all mailbox with another provider. If you have your domain registered with another company, they may be able to provide you with a POP3 mailbox free of charge, or you could get a POP3 mailbox from someone else (e.g. we can provide POP3 mailboxes to users of VPOP3 to get around this problem – contact us for information)

5) Switch to SMTP feed

You could take the stop of switching to an incoming SMTP feed. This is theoretically the best solution, as it is the way Internet mail was intended to work. The mail will then bypass BT (and Office365) totally. To get this to work, you need a permanent Internet connection with a static IP address. Set up a host name on your domain to point to your static IP address, set up the MX record on your domain to point to that host name, and make sure your router/firewall is allowing incoming TCP connections on port 25 and directing them to your internal mail server.

If you are using our VPOP3 email server and need help with any of this, then you can contact us at http://support.pscs.co.uk, or if you are not using our VPOP3 email server, and want to start using an easy-to-use local mail server, you can contact us or see our website for more information.

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