Google and Microsoft: The Battle For Office In The Cloud
Authors: Jim Lundy, Mike Anderson Date: May 18, 2012
Topics: Workplace; Content Management Research Note Number: 2012-15
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Summary: Microsoft and Google are in a battle for office suites in the cloud with email at the center and authoring as the prize. Google has established a strong presence with its Google Apps office apps in the cloud. Microsoft is upping its game with Office 365, a follow-up to its Business Productivity Online Suite.
As the move to cloud computing grows, demand is increasing for a cloud-based approach to the productivity apps in Microsoft Office. With Google Apps for Business, Google has built up an expanding population of users that is threatening Microsoft’s desktop dominance in that segment. Recognizing the vulnerability of its on-premise desktop approach, Microsoft has updated its own cloud offering with Office 365. This Research Note explores the battle for “Office in the cloud,” and the essential differences between Google Apps and Office 365 that should guide enterprise decisions.
For a growing number of enterprises, office communication and productivity suites are leading candidates for moving to the cloud. Cloud computing promises more agile deployment, lower costs, reduced maintenance and support staff, and pay-as-you go incremental growth. Combined with flexible client choices and support for the needs of an “anytime, anywhere” workforce, enterprises are finding cloud office to be a preferred workplace.
The battle for cloud office suites is two-pronged. Google and Microsoft are facing off on email and office document editing. Phase I of the battle was focused on email, which is still the driving cost factor. Enterprises are beginning to understand that Cloud email can offer a number of benefits (see Note 1). Phase II of the battle is about online Office editing, which can yield another round of cost savings.
On the surface, Google Apps and Office 365 both feature a core of email and calendar systems with office productivity apps for creating and editing documents, spreadsheets and presentations (see Note 2). Users can store files, share them with others, and collaborate in real time on the phone or with chat, which can include voice and video. Both services are compatible with Microsoft Office, and can share files with the desktop versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint (only Microsoft integrates with OneNote).
Microsoft: The 800-Pound Gorilla
Microsoft is the dominant leader in the PC-based office segment, for both Windows and Mac. Office 365 delivers its best user experience in an on-premise, Microsoft-centric hybrid client-server environment, rather than a pure cloud model. Office 365 provides the most complete functionality and richest user experience when it uses a Windows client, Internet Explorer browser and a client version of Microsoft Office. This includes Windows PCs and tablets, and Windows Phone 7, all of which have native Microsoft Office capabilities. Advanced telephony features can be provided by an on-premise installation of Microsoft Lync.
With Office 365 and Office software on a client device (Windows PC, Windows Phone 7 or Mac), the full power of the Office suite is available and is connected to the cloud. Documents can be saved directly from Word, PowerPoint or Excel to Office 365, and he client copy of Office is automatically invoked editing documents in the Office 365 app. Users with only a browser can view documents and do limited editing with Office Web Apps that reside in the cloud.
Other browsers, including Safari, Chrome and Firefox, can access full Office Web Apps features for the cloud-only capabilities of Office 365. Microsoft Office for Mac will have capabilities similar to the Windows version, such as editing Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents in Office 365 locally on the Mac. On mobile devices, only Windows Phone 7 has native Office software that enables editing, so users with other mobile environments such as iOS and Android can view but not revise Office files, unless they purchase third-party apps to do the editing. Microsoft does provide OneNote and Lync clients for iOS, Android and Symbian, and Aragon believes they will release mobile Office apps for iOS and Android in 2013.
Can Google Apps Compete With Office 365?
Comparing Google Apps to Office 365 is a different and more complex evaluation. Price is again no contest. Google Apps costs $4-5 per user per month (annual or monthly subscription), versus $22 a month per user for the full feature set of Office 365. However, this scenario typically assumes that some users will not need all the Office features, or otherwise may be able to use a lower-cost license.
Google Apps will be less expensive regardless of the feature mix, but functional requirements will be key, since Google offers less sophisticated editing, formatting and full-fidelity interchange with desktop Office. Basic documents, reports, documentation, note taking, budget spreadsheets, and basic presentations work well within Google Apps. Areas where users will likely find limitations include table of contents, tables and shapes, breadth of available templates and insertable objects, slide transitions and animations and extensive printing treatments.
Many enterprises have made large investments in PCs and Microsoft Office licenses, and require the powerful functions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. As cloud use increases, these enterprises will develop a mixed population of cloud-based and desktop-centric users, and these two groups will need to smoothly communicate and share files with each other. The lack of full-fidelity import and export of Office files makes this scenario problematic with Google Apps.
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