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Managing Cloud Complexity

Microsoft Office 365 vs. Google Apps for Business

Cloud-based office services compete on features, security, support fronts

By , Network World
November 02, 2011 06:07 AM ET

Network World - The battle between Microsoft and Google for office cloud dominance reminds me of the clash of the Titans. Microsoft and its classic on-premises business model is like Gaia, the earth goddess, and Google with its disruptive lightening bolt, is like Zeus, a sky god and a next generation kind of god.

On June 28, Microsoft launched Office 365, a subscription cloud service that replaced its Business Productivity Online Standard Suite (BPOS). Office 365 was a direct response to Google Apps for Business, which has been luring companies away from on-premises e-mail and Office applications with promises of better collaboration, less cost and less headaches. Google claims that it has some 4 million businesses using Google Apps for Business. To be fair, this number pales compared to the millions using Office, which by some estimates totals 750 million people.

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Office 365 includes hosted e-mail, calendars, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, SharePoint and Lync. Google Apps for Business includes hosted e-mail, calendars, a word processor, presentations, drawings, a Website and video storage. Office 365 is not to be confused Office Web Apps on Skydrive (previously known as OfficeLive), the freebie cloud service which offers versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote for Windows Live users. Nor is Google Apps for Business to be confused with the freebie versions of Google Apps, which limits user accounts to 10, or with Google Docs, the freebie versions of documents, spreadsheets, drawings, presentations, and experiments like Tables for its registered users.

Network World asked resellers of each subscription service to share with us the pros and cons of each productivity cloud offering. On the pro Office 365 side, we have Ellen Jennings, CEO of Business Engineering, Restin, Va. On the pro Google Apps side, we have Danny Riley, vice president of Services for Isos Technology, Tempe, Ariz.

Unique features: "The biggest feature of Office 365 that is not available with Google Apps would be Microsoft Office," Jennings says. Because Office 365 replicates many of the features found on on-premises versions of Microsoft Office, documents can move from the cloud to the desktop and back without losing formatting. For companies that use complicated documents, this becomes extremely important, Jennings says.

On the downside, to really get all the features available in Office, or to be able to edit a document offline, users need to pay for client-side versions either through some kind of traditional license or through an Office 365 option called Office Professional Plus.

Google has no such license requirements, counters Riley. "Google Apps is a true cloud-based solution which means it was designed to provide full featured experiences on any device or operating system," he says. "Office 365 has a limited feature set in the cloud, and is designed for PCs running Windows OS. Office 365's web apps rely heavily on Microsoft technologies like ActiveX, Silverlight and .Net framework."

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