Today is launch day for Microsoft’s Office 365, which offers use of Exchange, SharePoint and Lync hosted by Microsoft at commodity prices – not quite as low as $50 per user per year for Google Apps, but low enough that it is likely to be a substantial saving for most customers, versus the cost of installing, maintaining and backing up on-premise versions of the same software.
The debate about the merits of Office 365 versus Google Apps is a fascinating one, but the reality is that many organisations are not ready to give up Word and Excel, Outlook and Active Directory. Why?
- They are too deeply invested in Microsoft’s platform, and depend on home-grown and/or third-party applications that run on it.
- Office and Exchange is a business standard.
- Desktop applications still have advantages for things like word processing or manipulating large spreadsheets.
- Offline is important, and Microsoft is better at this than Google.
- Microsoft ticks boxes in areas like compliance and archiving
The beauty of Office 365 is that migration from on-premise servers can be almost invisible to users. It is also an easy and effective solution for new businesses. Every mobile device seems to support Exchange, and one thing it has always done well is to synchronise nicely with multiple clients.
The other side of the coin is that Google Apps is by far the better option if you want to live in the cloud. Outlook Web App is not bad, but creating and editing documents entirely with Office Web Apps would not be fun at all. Office 365 will also be a struggle if you are inclined to ditch Windows. Email will be OK, and I guess Mac users have Office 2011, though in my experience that is inferior to almost any version of Office on Windows.
What about the really interesting questions? Is data more secure with Google, or with Microsoft? Is either platform resilient enough to manage without backups? What is the risk of extended downtime that could have a drastic impact on productivity?
Unfortunately it is not possible to offer precise answers to these questions, which I guess is why on-premise retains its appeal.