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Office 365 and Google Apps: Microsoft’s Mid-Life Crisis

He’s always been there, reliable and dependable. Need to do your taxes? He’ll get out the Excel spreadsheet. Big presentation for work? Then you’ll need Powerpoint because what else are you going to use? Lotus Notes? Now Office is sat at the traffic lights and Google pulls up revving it’s V8 engine. So will Office step up or will it stall?

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In 2013, according to Microsoft, 500 billion Office documents were created. This averages out to nearly 72 files for every person in the world. No matter how you cut it that’s a vast amount of people and hours sat in front of a computer screen. Word, Powerpoint and Excel have been the standard for nearly 25 years and with Office 365 they’re finally making the big leap into the online world. With 365 you are now able to access browser based versions of these steadfasts from any system albeit with a slight reduction in the more advanced functions. They make a great addition to the Office lineup and facilitate hotdesking in a large corporate environment. This is especially true when utilised with ‘Azure Active Directory’ Microsoft’s cloud based identity management. Azure integrates very quickly with an existing Windows Server directory to offer ‘single sign-on’ to thousands of cloud SaaS applications.

Microsoft haven’t completely abandoned the desktop though and the full local versions of the Office Suite are available with 365 at the second tier of subscription and above. For collaboration and content management Office 365 includes Sharepoint. Fulfilling the roles of an intranet and document management software, amongst many others, Sharepoint allows easier internal communication as well as shared access to (or restriction of) documentation within an organisation. They are also offering their own cloud storage in the form of Onedrive where documents worked on in Office 365 are automatically saved. It’s worth noting that this system isn’t quite perfect yet and there are reports of Onedrive failing to synchronise meaning manual backups are still prudent.

Google’s Apps suite includes Docs, Sheets and Slides to compete with Word, Excel and Powerpoint respectively. As with most Google products the experience is smooth and intuitive and the interface is clean and much less cluttered than the sometimes bloated menus and toolbars of Office. It’s also a much simpler experience for sharing and collaborating on those documents without the need for additional setup. Colleagues can meet on Google Hangouts for video conferencing or Gmail instant messenger and work on the same document at the same time. For email most business users will be familiar and comfortable with Outlook but with Gmail equally prevalent the transition shouldn’t cause too much alarm.

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At the centre of the Apps offering is the Google Drive attached to the account. From here all documents are stored and available anywhere with internet access. The user can share and collaborate on these documents with anyone simply with a few clicks and restrict access as necessary. Reliance on Drive does make third party cloud storage difficult to use though and some rather unreliable applications are the only available solutions to sync between Google and the most popular of the other cloud suppliers. Being entirely online Apps can also get very resource hungry especially with multiple tabs open. It’s better with it’s own file types rather than Excel or Powerpoint but Google’s Sheets and Slides don’t offer as many of the macro or design options of their Office counterparts. Your accountants will probably take Sheets but they’ll be thinking about Excel.

Microsoft have shown surprising savvy in undercutting Google’s lowest level offering but in return you get the very least bang for your buck. The basic Office 365 subscription runs at £3.10 per user/per month for just the browser based programs with no mailbox, £7.00 for the desktop software or £7.80 to include a 50GB mailbox plus video conferencing and Yammer. Additionally If you’re looking at 300+ users you’ll need to go to the Enterprise level with prices ranging from £5.00 to £14.80. Google’s pricing is a much simpler two-tier system. The basic is £3.30 for the Apps plus a 30GB mailbox or for £6.80 the mailbox becomes unlimited and comes with additional tools for the tech guys to manage users and capacity.

So ultimately what does your business need? Office feels more substantial than the ‘Office-lite’ Apps and it will be a lot more familiar to the majority of users. With it’s move to the cloud Microsoft are finally acknowledging that work can be done somewhere other than in the office behind a desk. It’s not been the smoothest of transitions though and there have been some notable stumbles. For a small business or those needing smart, creative collaboration Google Apps offers a cleaner and fresher experience. When you don’t need or want a large on-site server having the reliability of Google backed services means you can get on with the business of working without worrying about how to pay for it. In a climate of rising costs many businesses, especially startups, would be wise to consider trading in for Google’s sleek and impressive sports car.

Posted to Office 365 Blog

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