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Office 365 vs Google Apps

Business insight on key areas of customer concern.

Last Review: September 15, 2012
Product(s): Microsoft Office 365, Google Apps

This Office 365 vs Google Apps review is provided to help customers make an informed decision about both Office 365 and Google Apps. Matrixforce provides deployment and support services for both Microsoft and Google. We know customers want a choice and frankly you cannot be cloud computing experts only knowing one solution. It must be understood that both Office 365 and Google Apps are significantly different offerings with divergent approaches. The intent of this article is to provide business insight on key areas of customer concern, rather than the over-done chart comparison of bits and bytes.

Bottom Line

The choice really depends upon some basic business requirements:

  • Why are you considering either?
  • What do you intend to do?
  • How do you interact with customers and vendors?
  • Who is going to use Office 365 or Google Apps?

The choice between Office 365 and Google Apps is as much cultural as it is business fit. The choice should primarily be driven by what your customers use and the background and experience of staff. The CPA firm with employees that have 10 yeas of experience using Microsoft and must regularly assist customers with Windows-based accounting packages and Excel are a natural fit for Office 365. The oil well logging company whose main concern is simple simple e-mail and simultaneous entry of rig data in a spreadsheet may opt for Google Apps.

The Microsoft approach is appealing user interface and superior productivity with a breadth of features, while Google is all about spartan looks and options - focusing instead on efficiency. Microsoft also offers optional Office for the desktop coupled with web portals. Google's primary intention is the sole use of Chrome to access Google Apps. There are no hard and fast rules, but people have strong reactions to the look and feel and capabilities of both. In our experience, organizations with younger staff, more open to change, and having relatively simple business requirements will choose Google Apps. As of this writing, it is still very much a Windows/Office world and the majority of customers are demanding a higher level of sophistication and opting for familiarity with Office 365. Located in the center of the nation where business views are often more conservative, Matrixforce deploys Office 365 more than Google Apps nearly 8 to 1. Even though Microsoft offers nominal cost nonprofit pricing for Office 365, the majority of Google Apps deployments are for nonprofit organizations that get the service for free.

Cost Consideration

The price is never just the price. There is always some kind of tangible extra cost or intangible hidden cost. The flat answer is that when comparing just the monthly cost, Google continually strives to be 10 - 20% less for 70 - 80% of the constantly growing Microsoft capabilities. Fortunately, because of competition history shows cloud computing prices to be remarkably stable and customers need not be concerned about gouging after becoming dependent upon either service. Whether choosing Office 365 or Google Apps, there are four (4) areas of more pertinent cost considerations for customers:

  1. Bandwidth - You may eliminate one or more servers and associated product and maintenance cost, but you'll likely want to increase bandwidth since you have even more dependence on the Internet.
  2. Migration - The highest risk and failures come from poor migration planning and not educating or setting expectations for employees. Utilizing providers who are "trying" to implement Office 365 or Google Apps and IT departments that don't understand the technology and are motivated to keep servers will wreak havoc on business operations and employee morale.
  3. Training - Even if it's just a few announcements, demos, or webinars; be transparent about why the business is moving to cloud computing and how things will be different. You will be light years ahead of quelling an employee revolt.
  4. Support - Microsoft is by far the more customer-centric company with a colossal support infrastructure. If IT and employees are not intimately familiar with the technology and highly self-motivated and self-sufficient, then you may be inordinately frustrated by the self-help search and e-mail support of Google Apps.

Migration: More Than Half the Battle

With few exceptions, both Office 365 and Google Apps customers are satisfied afterwards. How satisfied depends on expectations and the migration. For both solutions, a strong understanding of technical issues like DNS is required, clean-up of old employee data and obsolete business files may be significant, and limitations of both services such as e-mail attachment size must be understood.

Office 365 has an e-mail migration wizard to automatically create users and sync on-premise Exchange mailboxes in the background and when complete, most customers will cutover mail delivery and use the autodiscover feature to automatically configure Outlook for Office 365. Coming from an on-premise Exchange environment, Microsoft has a distinct advantage in that the folder structure of the inbox, calendar, contacts, and tasks are simply replicated to Office 365. The only things users must configure afterwards are signatures, rules, delegates, and color/categorization. For SharePoint, an administrator must configure the team site and permissions. Then users can use Explorer view to drag server shared folders to pre-defined document libraries. Each user also has a mysite to upload documents from their user folder.

With Google Apps, users are created first and an Outlook client migration tool is used to upload mailboxes generally over a weekend. After mail delivery is changed to Google Apps, there is no configuration of Outlook required unless you want to continue to use the Goggle Apps Sync for Outlook. Unfortunately, Exchange to Google Apps users will have some work to move all messages into appropriate labels, since the original folder structure is not retained. Users must upload documents and then choose the sharing. Conversion works well on most files, but can be time consuming and highly complex documents may become damaged requiring editing.

Common Observations

There are strident fans for both Office 365 and Google Apps. Rather than marketing hype, it's important to see real-world feedback on both:

  • Active Directory password synchronization for both solutions is overly complex and failure prone, making it not worth the effort for organizations with less than 1,000 users.
  • Office 365 and Google Apps users may complain about having another password, but these may be synced manually or set to not expire.
  • Office 365 requires a more comprehensive understanding of DNS for setup than Google Apps.
  • While both Office 365 and Google Apps have strong web mail offerings, good luck getting rid of Outlook because it is more of a cult than Netware, WordPerfect, and Blackberry combined.
  • Highly technical organizations or power users often lament lacking features in Google Apps.
  • Low use to average users often say Office is overkill and they don't need all the bells and whistles.
  • Long-time Microsoft users may have some challenges finding a feature from time to time and new Google users often struggle with an unfamiliar interface.
  • Some documents like Publisher cannot be converted in Google docs and some file conversions seem inordinately slow.
  • Few IT professionals really understand SharePoint and many users can't comprehend accessing documents using a browser rather than Windows Explorer.
  • Administrators for both Office 365 and Google Apps must get used to new portal options, rather than using remote desktop to administer a server.
  • Group policy options for deploying and updating Google Apps icons and Chrome are found extremely lacking or unfeasible by most administrators.

Summary

Choosing Office 365 vs Google Apps is a cultural choice as much as a business fit. If you share documents and collaborate heavily with your customers, they may dictate your choice. Google refuses to play the feature war and is slightly less than Office 365 on a straight monthly subscription comparison. However, the feature set is significantly reduced and you must weigh tangible additional costs and intangible hidden costs of: bandwidth, migration, training, and support. Educate users on expectations and try to quickly move beyond migration to begin getting the most business benefit. There are no hard and fast rules, but in general:

  • Conservative or technically competent organizations or power users with more complex needs prefer Office 365.
  • Autonomous organizations with limited task or resourceful users prefer Google Apps.

Whichever option you chose, our final recommendation is to experience a trial and fully qualify your managed service provider . The happiest customers are those that fully embrace their chosen solution and don't lose sight of the desire for less cost and greater productivity, reliability, and security.