Review: Microsoft Office 365 vs. Google Apps

Web browser or Office suite? Microsoft's and Google's office productivity and collaboration clouds pit rich and complex against simple and lean

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Google is also playing catch-up in other areas your business might care about. Google Apps Script is a JavaScript variant designed to build macros for the Google Apps. The Scripts run in the cloud, not on your machine. There's an active, if young, developers' site to help get started. Microsoft Office, on the other hand, exposes an enormous amount of information -- a huge API -- for custom development using .Net (or even Visual Basic for Applications). Those programs run on the local machine. There's a huge ecosystem of programmers, books, and code for Office-related development, as well as help for would-be Office add-on programmers. Office has a lot more power and flexibility on the PC, while Google runs rings around the Web.

Back when every single desktop needed a copy of Office (or at least when the powers-that-be assumed every desktop should be Office-equipped), forgoing Office apps on most PCs was unthinkable. That's changing. Now, it would be worthwhile to take a hard look at how badly your organization needs a chicken in every pot.

Office 365 vs. Google Apps: Ease-of-useOnce again we're back to Queen Elizabeth 2 vs. the Sloop Google. It all depends on what you want to do.

If you're accustomed to using Outlook on the desktop, the Outlook Web App will look more or less familiar, whereas Gmail may turn your world inside out.

If your users are accustomed to Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, the Office 365 choices don't change a thing -- quite literally a zero learning curve. On the other hand, if your people are using Google Docs at home already or if they've come to loathe Office's more frustrating aspects, perhaps the much simpler Google Docs approach will fit the bill.

Over time, Gmail and have come to look and act much alike. Although there are purists who would argue the supremacy of one over the other, on balance, I find it just as easy (or as hard!) to wean people from desktop Outlook and onto either online service. If your transition to Office 365 includes moving to, you're in for some user pushback. On the other hand, if most of your users already have online email accounts, going to either or Gmail should be a relative piece of cake.

Assuming you come from an Outlook shop, and you're going to continue using Outlook on the desktop, Office 365 will fit like an old glove. Since many (if not most) office workers these days are familiar with online email systems, the learning curve for Gmail shouldn't be daunting. Getting used to Google Apps might present a few challenges, but most will find it quite straightforward, particularly if they're inured to the complexity of Office.

Office 365 vs. Google Apps: AdministrationAdministering an Office 365 installation can be demanding, precisely because Office 365 offers a wide array of options. Many admins who aren't used to handling Exchange, Lync, or SharePoint will need experienced help to get the beast up and running. Administering Google Apps for Business is comparatively easy because the choices are straightforward and well laid out.

Office 365 has so many nooks and crannies, as well as so many tools at hand, that someone new to the product would be well advised to look into everything on offer -- that means training, lots of time with Google (er, Bing), participation in one or more of the online fora, and likely consultation with other folks who have been around the block a few times.

When evaluating the administrative burden of both products, the edge goes to Google Apps. While Microsoft has struck an excellent balance between capability and ease of administration with a very polished and extensive set of admin tools, Office 365 is a much broader, more encompassing product that is plainly more difficult to manage.

Office 365 vs. Google Apps: ValueGoogle Apps runs $50 per user per year, with no contract required. Adding Google Apps Vault for archiving and compliance brings the price up to $120. The other Google products that I mention in the Features section are all free, all the time.

As I explained in the complicated discussion at the beginning of this article, Office 365 with Office 2013 licenses vary between $150 and $240 per year, per head.

Google Apps is an excellent value, period -- it does a lot, for a pittance. Office 365's value is entirely locked up in whether your company wants to rent the latest version of Office Professional Plus. If you need the Office desktop productivity suite and can move from your current Software Assurance plan, then Office 365 is every bit as good a value as Google Apps.

Office 365 vs. Google Apps: The bottom lineThe two packages are neck-and-neck in the ratings, but they're completely different in real life. Google Apps is small and easily administered; it covers the high points; and it doesn't try to reach into the more obscure corners of your company or organization.

Office 365, on the other hand, offers the best (and most complex) enterprise support in the business. I'm continually amazed at how well Microsoft has built out Office 365, rolling feature upon feature into the mix, yet keeping the whole package remarkably stable, usable, and manageable.

For large enterprises with strict data controls and complex, diverse operations, Office 365 has no equal. For any organization with less-stringent requirements and a willingness to part with companywide Office document compatibility, Google Apps offers a good, inexpensive, and reliable alternative.

If you're looking at Office 365 and Google Apps for your small business and you don't have a pressing need for Office doc compatibility or a tied-down security requirement, pull out your calculator (or your Google Sheet) and do the math. On the Google side, you have $50 per year per person, plus the price of the necessary copies of Office (rent or buy). On the Microsoft side, Office 365 will run $150 per person per year for up to 25 users, or $180 per person for up to 300 users -- $240 per seat to get all of the bells and whistles.

I bet you'll find that, for most small and midsize businesses, Google Apps is considerably cheaper -- but it may not do what you need to do. There's a reason why Office 365 is doing well in large enterprises.

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