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Google Apps vs. Office 365

Many in IT are being asked -- or are asking themselves -- if their shops should move apps to the cloud. There are two main choices: Google Apps for Business and Office 365.

Google Apps is actually older, at least in the online world. Google Docs, a bare-bones Web-based word processor, came out in 2006, and is going on 6 years old. Meanwhile, Office 365's predecessor, Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), came out worldwide about three years ago. But Office, which is the core of Office 365 client apps, itself is now more than 21 years old (it debuted November 1990). That legacy means that Office 365 has far, far more features than Google Apps. For some, that is important. Others, particularly startups and smaller shops, may appreciate a leaner, simpler set of offerings.

Another huge difference? Google Apps is pure Web -- everything happens in the browser and most users store most files in the cloud.

Office 365 can be used solely in the cloud, but the sweet spot is a hybrid installation where on-premises server software and locally installed instances of Office interact with Office apps in the cloud. You can also opt for running the productivity apps in hybrid fashion and having Microsoft completely manage Exchange, Lync and SharePoint, thereby reducing the administrative burdens of security, backup, patching and other forms of maintenance. This hybrid approach also allows shops to move to the cloud at their own pace. In fact, they need never cut fully over to the Web.

Since Microsoft has been offering a suite going on 22 years, there is consistency in how all the apps work. They essentially look and act the same, with the exception of maybe mixing and matching Ribbon and non-Ribbon-based apps, so they all feel like they're part of a family.

Google likely didn't imagine Google Apps for Business when it first wrote all these pieces of software, so there is a certain lack of consistency among the apps in how they look and feel, operate, and are set up and managed.

So what do you get for your money, and how much does it all cost? Let's start with Google. Google Apps for Business is easy to understand and simple to buy. The suite includes Google Docs, which is now equipped with word processing, spreadsheets, storage, slideshows and presentations. It also has Gmail, Calendar (which is somewhat separate from Gmail), Sites, Groups (for work sharing), Postini security, and Web-ish apps such as Blogger, Reader, Picasa and AdWords. And that's just for now. The nimble Google is keeping Apps a moving target by regularly adding items.

Pricing for Google Apps for Business? It's either $5 a month or $50 a year with no commitment. That's it.

Office 365 comes with core Office apps, Excel, Word, OneNote and PowerPoint. It also includes server tools such as SharePoint, Lync and Exchange. Think of Office 365 as a super suite.

The base Office 365 license offers the bare-bones Microsoft Office Web Apps versions of core Office apps, forcing users to bring files into their locally installed apps to do fancy formatting, serious spreadsheet calculations and so on. But customers can pay extra for Office Professional Plus. With Professional Plus, the online versions of the Office software are fuller-featured, essentially offering the full-feature set of Office but online.

Pricing for Office 365 is complex and generally ranges from $6 to $27 a month depending on how much function you want.

Dueling Devices
Google essentially works with any Web-ready client, such as smartphones including Android (of course), BlackBerry, iPhone and even Windows Phones, as well as key tablets. On the PC side, Linux machines, Windows and Mac are all equal-opportunity players.

When it comes to clients, Office 365 was crafted with a PC-centric view. Most shops will use a PC running full versions of Office apps as the client, and thinner clients such as smartphones just for mobile use.

While Google Apps was built from the get-go with remote access from multiple devices in mind, Microsoft also has a decent story, according to reader Phil. "I can access the Outlook message store if I can get online. Recently while on vacation, I was left without the shared netbook we brought. My daughter connected with her iPhone to the online Exchange site through Outlook Web Access, and I could quite quickly search for and find a key email message with the name of a restaurant in it. I've even been able to reuse an old iPod Touch as a calendar device. This solution does require at least Outlook 2007, but 2010 is better," Phil says.

Joseph Johnson is president of the nonprofit soccer booster club RHS Soccer Boosters Inc., and is looking to help players, parents, coaches and the club itself better communicate. The club is working with Google Apps and Facebook.

Johnson likes how his Google Apps are available anywhere. "Having the documents available on my cell phone or at any public computer is great, [such as] when [I'm] approached by parents at a soccer game or needing to print 100 copies of something at the UPS Store. Additionally, most people can access the public files with a simple sign in and no install. The ability to access these documents in a pure Web browser makes it great for our motley group," Johnson says.

Have you used either tool? If so, how well did it work? Shoot your thoughts to me at dbarney@redmondmag.com.

Posted by Doug Barney on 02/28/2012 at 12:47 PM


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