By the time you read this, Microsoft will have released itslong-awaited Office 365 cloud-based office-productivity suite to general availability. The product is intended to compete directly with Google Apps for Business, which has been out for a while.
As the product was being readied for market, Microsoft asked the analysis arm of my company, Wayne Rash & Associates, to examine both products and give an independent, unbiased view of how they compared.
Whileboth products have been changed to some extent since the comparison, the study is still valid because the overall approach has remained the same for both companies. In addition, Google has certainly been aware of the approach of Office 365 and has added orupgraded features accordingly. As a result, it’s clear that if you want to take cloud-computing approach for your office-productivity applications, you can reliably use either one of the products.
But there are significant differences. The most basic, and perhaps the most important to most companies, is that Google Apps provides an alternative to Microsoft Office that allows you to continue using Microsoft Office for some functions. Microsoft Office 365 provides a cloud-based version of Microsoft Office. This is not a small matter. Where Microsoft provides Exchange as part of its cloud offering, Google provides Gmail, and the way the Google Apps are integrated, you cannot have a fully functional version of Google Apps for Business without Gmail.
In fact, Google Apps for Business is so tightly integrated with Gmail that before you can do more than a test implementation, you must convert at least part of your mail system to Gmail, and you must place a Google-specified entry into your Website’s metadata or into its DNS (Domain Name System) record. Failure to do this will prevent Google Apps for Business from working for you. For many businesses, entering the metadata or DNS records isn’t a problem. But for other businesses, it may take days or longer to arrange this. Or it may not be possible-depending on who is responsible for your Website. You’re also required to put a mail redirection entry into your DNS record.
Microsoft Office 365 requires none of these steps. You can keep your existing email application as long as you want and use the cloud-based version of Exchange in parallel, or not use it at all. Companies already using a hosted Exchange provider will not need to change.
Performance Is the Biggest Differentiator
Once you’re past the implementation part of using either of these cloud-based suites, there are still differences, but to some extent, whether they’re better or worse depends on your needs. The Google management interface is rather terse, but once you’re experienced in using the interface, that may be a good thing. The Microsoft Office 365 management interface is more verbose and more complex than Google’s, but it also has greater functionality. Effectively, Office 365 managers have more granular control than do Google Apps managers.
Both suites now feature cloud-based collaboration features. Google has just added Google Cloud Connect as a multiuser collaboration feature designed for Microsoft Office software. Microsoft offers a cloud version of SharePoint. Both allow multiple people to work on the same document at the same time. Google makes a point about not needing SharePoint deployment on its pages. But with Office 365, SharePoint is already deployed. All you need to do is use it.
Where users will see the biggest difference is in some areas of performance. While you can use Microsoft Outlook with either Gmail or with Office 365’s version of Exchange, there are other areas where being able to use a locally-based application such as Word or Excel may be preferable. Because most businesses of any size already have Microsoft Office on their computers, employees can create documents locally and save them to SharePoint. Using Google Apps means you’re using Google Docs, and depending on your Internet connection, you can have some latency-induced performance issues. I’ve noticed substantial delays in working with Google Docs documents online.
Of course, if you’re using Office 365’s cloud-based version of Word or Excel, you’ll see similar latency delays. Despite the improvements in the Internet, there are still days when things seem to slow to a crawl and that affects either of the cloud-based suites. The difference is that with Office 365 you may not have to depend on the cloud when things aren’t going well. Of course, you can also create documents in Office and then send them to Google Docs if the Internet gets too slow for efficient use. But I’ve noted a few instances when Office documents weren’t faithfully reproduced in Google docs, and occasionally, they were so garbled that they weren’t useful.
So now that Office 365 is available, you can try this for yourself by going to http://www.office365.com and choosing the version that fits your business the best. You can do the same thing with Google Apps for Business by going to http://www.google.com/apps. Companies already using Office will probably find it easier to incorporate Office 365, but the only way to know for sure is to try them out.
Editor’s Note: This article has been corrected to reflect that Microsoft Office 365 is now generally available to the public.