Thursday, May 19, 2011

Enter Microsoft...

Regular readers (that's my mother, I think...) will know I'm a big fan of Google Apps and Google Docs. These are "cloud" systems - systems available over the net, rather than running on your own computers. My view is that Google Apps is a great general collaboration tool and email system, and while Google Docs might not be the application you use to write your novel, it's an excellent system for allowing teams to use and modify documents. You can even build applications upon it.

Microsoft has finally announced its answers to these applications in the form of Office 365 (roughly analogous to Google Apps), and Office Web Apps (I think that's what it's called!)

Here's the main points you need to know about both.

Google Apps vs Office 365
  • Google Apps provides web-based infrastructure for shared email, documents, etc.
  • Office 365 provides the same facilities as Google Apps, but also provides the option of using tools more integrated with Windows, directly, without using hacks.
  • Google Apps is free for up to ten users, but the free version lacks certain administration tools and lacks some applications. You can't fully integrate the free version of Google Apps with your office network, not even with external tools.
  • Google Apps is also available on a subscription basis. The premium version costs $50/user/year, and includes tools making it easier to integrate with an office network. It remains, however, primarily a web based tool.
  • Office 365 is only available on a subscription basis. The basic system costs less than $100/year/user, but this is approximately as functional as the free version of Google Apps. A set of "Enterprise" plans exist with considerably more functionality than the "premium" version of Google Apps.
  • The subscription costs can't directly be compared. Typically Windows office environments need to pay for a server running Active Directory and pay for licenses for each workstation managed by Active Directory. From what I can determine, the Office 365 Enterprise plans actually cover all of this. The basic (P1) Office 365 plan and Google Apps do not.
Both services include email, shared documents, cloud storage, instant messaging, and web site management.

Office Web Apps vs Google Docs

Let's now look at Office Web Apps and compare it to Google Docs.
  • They both allow you to edit documents on the web
  • They're both stripped down in terms of the editing features available
  • Office Live is slightly better at importing Microsoft Office documents than Google Docs, as you'd expect.
  • Office Live is more integrated with Microsoft Office, as you'd also expect.
  • They're both entirely cross platform. You just need a modern web browser.
  • They both allow collaborative editing.
  • They're both free.

It's all very interesting, isn't it? Microsoft has put some real thought into this and come up with a fairly compelling set of products. These products make it easier for companies to migrate to a more modern infrastructure, and the Microsoft route provides Microsoft with a way to make that happen while still getting in the income it would otherwise lose from companies no longer reliant on its operating system.

Until I work with 365 for a bit, I can't really comment on how well it works, but I have to give them credit for the concepts at least. I'm particularly pleased that they've, apparently, decided to do this properly - no hacks involving proprietary technologies to lock people into certain hardware and software choices. With real, game changing, innovation suddenly hitting the personal computer platform for the first time in decades, Microsoft neither wants to hold this back, nor fail to be a part of it if the technologies it proposes, for whatever reason, fail to take off. Good for them.

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