Microsoft Hates Folders (Part 1 of 3)

It’s not clear what brought this on. For many years, Microsoft – inventor of Windows, which did not create the folder metaphor for directories (I believe that was Mac, or maybe Xerox PARC), but certainly used them happily for decades – and folders got along just fine. Then suddenly one day users of SharePoint Online couldn’t work with folders anymore, except in very limited ways.

I’ve encountered this many, many times in the course of helping clients migrate into Office 365. They want to move off OneDrive into SharePoint, or off of networked file shares. Great! We create a site for them, and appropriate libraries. And then it turns out that we can’t upload their stuff the way that anyone would normally upload things into SharePoint, because SharePoint no longer allows you to upload folders.

Did… it never occur to Microsoft that people who are migrating into SharePoint Online would probably have a lot of folders? That they might like to upload?

I know what the technical logic is behind deprecating folders, of course. At practically every SharePoint Saturday I’ve been to, someone has been teaching a class on why you don’t want to, or need to, use folders in SharePoint libraries.

A folder structure, when it comes right down to it, is metadata. You could have piled all your finance documents in the root of your C drive, but instead you put them in a directory labeled C:\My Documents\Finance to organize them better, because a Windows directory doesn’t allow you to apply metadata directly to files, so in order to mark them as Finance files you put them in a directory labeled Finance. And then you probably have directories like Taxes\Federal\2007, or Reports\P&L\2013, or Register\MyBank\Checking\2001, or stuff like that. All of this is metadata. Tax files, specifically federal tax files, specifically the ones from 2007. Reports, specifically P&L reports, specifically the ones from 2013. And so forth.

It’s a method of organization that comes from mentally projecting filing cabinets, where there can be only one physical sort method of physical objects, into the world of computers, where there could theoretically be as many sort methods as you have different data to sort by. So Microsoft has been pushing hard for SharePoint users to get out of the habit of folders, and use metadata instead with views that group, sort, and filter the data in different ways.  That way, should you have a need to pull together all financial reports for 2013, you aren’t hampered by the fact that the reports have been set into different directories by the type of report and then within those directories divided by year; you can simply pull all of one year together.

Well, ok, Microsoft, that’s great, but do you have time to go through half a terabyte of data going back 10 years to add metadata to it so that you can safely mark it in SharePoint without having to upload the folders? “Yes,” Microsoft says, “we do! We’re one of the biggest corporations on the planet and we are crawling with low-paid interns who can do that sort of work for us!” OK, but have you thought about the fact that your customers don’t all have those resources? In particular, your customers of SharePoint Online, which is most economic for small and micro businesses?

No. Of course they haven’t.

All is not lost, of course. There are two ways to get your folders into SharePoint anyway. There’s the method recommended by Microsoft, which is full of bugs, and then there’s the old, deprecated and nowadays mostly undocumented method, which is full of different bugs. The third option is to hire us to do it for you, since we’ve written our own tools to solve this problem, and if you’re planning to do that, you can call us at 410 633 5959 or email me at . Operators are standing by!

Yeah, I kind of assumed that if you were reading a blog about how to do this, you wanted to do this yourself. But I had to try.

So. In the next part of this blog, I’m going to talk about how to get your folders onto SharePoint anyway. Then in the third and final part, I’ll demonstrate the advantages to using metadata rather than folders and show why you actually might want to try to move away from folders as a method for organizing your data on SharePoint, going forward.

Full Service Office 365 Admin vs. Support

I had a conversation today with a customer that made me realize that we might be offering something fairly unique, so I wanted to take a moment to talk about that.

We offer a service called The Full Monty. While the name implies you get everything, certainly we have services that are higher priced and not included in this bundle - but as the name implies, The Full Monty gives almost everything you could want to add to Office 365 that Microsoft doesn't sell you.

What's Included?

Compliance 365

Reports and alerts for Office 365 to keep tabs on your account. This offering is awesome if you have compliance requirements like SOX, HIPAA, FINRA, or GLBA. It also gives you better intelligence into what's going on within your Office 365 subscription, so it has real value for companies that don't necessarily have heavy regulatory obligations.

Managed Help Desk

friendly technical staff to provide Tier 1 support for Office 365, backed up by our experienced Office 365 and SharePoint experts. While we do support Office 365 customers at no extra cost, this service takes that to a whole new level. We include a toll free number and robust management of all your IT issues, including those with for which outside parties are responsible. We'll even manage your support requests and forward them to your own IT staff as needed, if that's what works for you.

Admin OnDemand

This is the one our customers really love. This service puts our Office 365 SharePoint experts at your beck and call for practically any routine administrative task you could possibly want. It goes beyond support, which covers break/fix and telling you how tasks can be performed; we actually do the work for you. Good examples include on-boarding a new employee or creating a new SharePoint site or document library.

What's Not Included?

Support and technical administrative staff don't write code, and they aren't consultants.These services weren't intended to replace those provided during more complex development or systems integration projects. So, we do all that we can to offer the best service possible, but if a particular task would require these skills or take longer than a couple of hours, chances are it's not covered in this program.

Our services don't normally cover desktop OS or hardware support. Many of our customers tell us that such services that they get from "managed service providers" are a waste of money. A good option for hardware support is to rely on the warranty services provided by hardware vendors like Dell, HP, BestBuy, or MicroCenter. If you need an on site technician or remote support for desktop software and OS, we can provide these at additional cost. 

The Full Monty isn't a cloud backup service, extra app, or SharePoint add-on. If you want to put additional capabilities into Office 365 that it doesn't provide natively, we can help you by recommending such services. I know, that seems obvious, but sometimes we get interesting questions, so we thought it would be a good idea to spell it out.

What Does It Cost?

The Full Monty Costs the equivalent of $7.77/user/month, so that's $93.24/user/year. Quarterly billing is available if you're in a pinch.

Here's another way to think about the price. If you have 100 employees in your company, the cost would be $9,324/year. Compare that to hiring an average part-time IT worker, which is likely to cost you something in the neighborhood of $40,000/year and possibly more. In such a situation, if our service prevented someone from having to hire a person to perform these duties, they'd be saving 30k per year at the very least.

What if I add users later?

Yes, as your workforce grows your costs will go up, but in a very predictable way. There are very practical reasons why we can't offer to provide this service to only some of your employees while excluding others. You can always opt out of the program or switch to a different plan, but of course the services we'll offer in that case will likely be different. So, it's best to decide if you want this level of support and then plan accordingly.

What if I have users who aren't using the whole Office 365 suite?

The Fully Monty was intended for customers with plans like Business Premium, the E1, or E3. Sometimes, folks will have e-mail only or kiosk workers. That's fine, and of course it isn't our intention to charge full price in such cases. However, each situation is different, so we'd need to have a conversation with you and work up a custom quote based on your unique situation in order to get you the best price.

In Summary

People often have questions about what services they need and why they should pay more in addition to what Microsoft already charges for Office 365. While we do make some money from reselling Microsoft's cloud services, our margins are not fantastic; we do the best job we can to support 365 customers at no extra cost.

Often, companies have IT needs that go well beyond what can be considered support in a traditional sense. The Full Monty is our offering that addresses this. By taking into account what customers are likely to need at any given time and using an actuarial model to distribute the risk, we keep the costs as low as possible. Think of this like insurance for your Office 365 services. When you need assistance, we'll be there.

We think it's a great service and quite affordable compared to those offered by traditional MSPs. Maybe even it could be the cheapest way to hire a SharePoint admin that ever existed.  Do you agree or disagree? Did I leave something important out? If so, I'd like to hear from you. Competitors are welcome to reply too. Please leave me a comment below and tell me what you think.