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Microsoft Office 365 vs. Google Apps for Business

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."

Google allows users to download documents into a variety of flavors, such as PDF, Word's .doc format and ODT, which works with LibreOffice and OpenOffice. To be fair, the user would still need client-side copies of some sort of application to be able to work with them. Google does allow browser-based offline editing but requires Chrome as the browser for the Offline Access feature.

Collaboration: Google Apps made a name for itself with collaboration. "Google Docs provides a real-time collaboration feature where multiple users can be editing a single document at the same time. Each collaborator can actually see the edits of others in real time. Office 365 simply provides a check-in/check-out approach to team collaboration. Additionally, Google Docs users can have a real-time instant message chat conversation within the context of their document," Riley says.

But Office 365 has game here too, namely with Lync and SharePoint. "SharePoint is complex at the high end, but for small companies looking to store files, collaborate in teams and institute work flow processes it is very intuitive," Jennings says. SharePoint also provides secure access for external users. Lync gives users instant messaging, video calling and web conferencing.

Uptime and support: Both services seem to be about even in the number of outages they have suffered and the uptime SLAs they offer. Both guarantee three nines or 99.9% uptime. Both offer a Web dashboard so that users can check the status of outages. However, Microsoft's outages have been known to take down the Health Dashboard, too. (See Microsoft confirms BPOS cloud outage.) Microsoft's Office 365 dashboard is not public, but available only to registered Office 365 administrators. A Network World reader keeping track of Office 365 outages has published a record showing the service went down twice since launching in June. Jennings says that Microsoft has "stepped up" its communication on what is going on and how long it is expected to last. "I am told that Google measures their downtime in terms of the number of users impacted, so that the impact has to be very significant to impact their 'uptime. ...They also give credit by extending the service term, whereas Microsoft actually gives money back as a credit," she says.

The Google Apps Status Dashboard is public and shows about four outages for various services since August, the earliest records still visible on the dashboard.

Support: Microsoft includes phone support to its Office 365 customers, Jenning says, and contends that while Google also offers phone support, it is difficult to reach Google on the phone, except for customers that pay for premium support. Google's Terms of Support documents seem to lead some credence to this. Phone service is available - and even required for high priority issues over the weekend. Premium support will net the customers an assigned support person, but Google reserves the right to deny premium support to its customers after the first 12 months of service.

Security: Both services claim to meet FISMA, the security standard required by government users. This after some hoopla in the spring where Microsoft called Google a liar over its FISMA certification claims. "Microsoft's Office 365-Federal, which includes Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Lync Online is FISMA certified. Microsoft is pursuing accreditation for Office 365 as well, and currently has FISMA certification for Office 365 data centers. Office 365 also has ISO 27001 certification, for the application as well as the data centers, which is something that our competitors do not have. Office 365 data for customers based in North America is in data centers in the U.S.," Jennings says.

Riley confirms that Google Apps for Government is FISMA certified, too. "It is also SAS70 Type II certified. Only government agencies are eligible for the GAFG edition," he says.

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Add-on services: Both offerings' vendors claim to have a big ecosystem of add-on products, services, resellers and support. "The Microsoft ecosystem is huge - partners, compatible products and software, and it is well-established. This has been in place for a long time - it is not as if it had to be created for Office 365," Jennings says. Microsoft's add-ons are accessible through the Office 365 Marketplace.

Riley believes the Google ecosystem is more mature. Google add-ons are accessible through the Google Apps Marketplace.

Pricing: Microsoft's publicized pricing ranges from $6 to $27 per user per month depending on usage, monthly or annual payment terms and the like. Office Professional Plus runs another $12 to $15 per user per month. Google Apps costs $5 per user per month, or $50 per user per year. "That's it, just two pricing models. Office 365 has 11 different plans made up of three editions and two tiers," Riley says adding "Google apps is cheaper at every business level."

Jennings insists that Office 365 is "business-class" whereas Google Apps is "consumer-class."

Julie Bort is the editor of Network World's Microsoft Subnet and Open Source Subnet communities. She writes the Microsoft Update and Source Seeker blogs. Follow Bort on Twitter @Julie188.


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