Surprises and pains in transferring Office Live websites

For a number of years Microsoft offered low-cost domain names, websites and email accounts with their Office Live Small Business service. The new Office 365 product replaces this service and the MOLSB websites and email service are being discontinued at the end of April, 2012.

The new Office 365 is a much more comprehensive service and is not cost-competitive for just website hosting and email accounts, so many small organizations will have to find other providers.

In the past years I have enthusiastically recommended MOLSB and now find myself helping with the transfer process for several businesses. That has been a painful and sometimes surprising experience. This article is not meant as a “how-to” but rather a review of some of the steps and problems.

The task of transferring a website and email services seemed simple enough:

  1. Find a new service that can provide domain name registration, website hosting, and email accounts.
  2. Transfer the website to the new service.
  3. Transfer the domain registration.
  4. Set up new email accounts.
  5. Instruct the email users in the change-over procedure.

There are large numbers of providers of web services, so finding one that fits should be easy – just do a web search. Ha! A search yields a forest of offerings, “biased” review sites, and very sketchy details on the provider sites. Best bet is to talk with colleagues who have experience in this field.

Transferring the website to another provider should be straight-forward: Surprise!

MOLSB-05The MOLSB website offering was a simple, easy to use, yet quite extensive service. Building a site was a WYSIWYG process with a large variety of options of templates, layouts, color combinations and modules.

Transferring the website design might seem like a simple cut and paste operation. That brought up the first surprise. Here is an illustration what the code looks like from a cut-and-paste process:image

The code refers to style sheets and source locations on the MOLSB site. Modifying the code is a bigger chore than starting over. For the sites I helped move, creating the site anew was the only workable option. Building a multipage site is time-consuming even for skilled professionals, for members of a small business it can be daunting. Some of the providers do have “one-click” site building tools – well, it really takes a lot of clicks.

Transferring domains is done all the time. That should not be a chore. Surprise number 2:

There is a link to transfer the site on the MOLSB Manage Domain page. Clicking the link initiates a transfer of the domain back to MelbourneIT, the registrant for Microsoft. This works pretty fast, just minutes later an email arrives with account credentials at MelbourneIT.

There are a couple of ways to proceed from there. I recommend that a good amount of time be allowed between the next steps, preferably several hours. It is possible to get ahead of the Internet sharing the new information around the world.

The domain can remain registered with MelbourneIT and pointed to a website as an “external domain”. This is the easiest and quickest route. With the hosting provider the domain name is added as an “external domain” and the destination set to the new site. The name server settings in the MelbourneIT account need to be set to the hosting providers name servers. This process is also very fast, but the steps should be carried out with time between steps to let the Internet catch up. Just a few hours after this procedure is completed the domain name will point to the new site.

The other method of handling the domain registration is to change registrar to the new provider. One reason for doing so is the much higher registration fees charged by MelbourneIT. If registration is close to expiration, this is the route to go. If the registration is good for several more months, it is more economical to employ the first procedure, and move the registration at a later date.

Even if you decide to transfer registration, I recommend that the “external domain” procedure should be set up first, because moving registrar is a slow process that requires many days.

Moving registration can be initiated from your new hosting provider. It involves a number of steps at both ends. In one case I got ahead of the system and resolving the problem took hours of long distance calls to Australia (the home of MelbourneIT) and many calls to my new provider. In the end, the transfer was cancelled and I settled for the “external domain” solution.

In another instance the procedure worked smoothly, however, there is a four-day waiting period before the final transfer is completed. Once the transfer is initiated, if MelbourneIT still points to the MOLSB website, there is nothing that can be done to change it until the transfer is completed. 

Setting up new email accounts is another painful process. Accounts using the same addresses can be set up with a new provider. There will, of course, be new mail servers involved. These new mail servers also take time to become effective and proceed in step with the hosting change. In the meantime the old accounts will remain and work normally.

With the MOLSB website Microsoft provided email accounts, initially up to 100, more recently the number was lowered. These automatically provided Windows Live IDs, (now called “Microsoft accounts”). The emails could be reached by signing in to Hotmail. Of course, desktop mail clients like Live Mail or Outlook could also be used.

After site transfer, and certainly by the end of April 2012, the MOLSB email accounts will be terminated. So the email users will need to change their mail client setups, their Windows Live account, and make provisions to save old received and sent email messages. I will discuss these chores, along with their surprises and pains, in another article.


© 2011 Ludwig Keck

About Ludwig

Lending a helping hand where I can. . . My motto: If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well.
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