Slugfest: Should You Choose Google Apps or Office 365 for Work?

In the early days of the Web, the cloud was too slow for interactive productivity tools. Now it’s way better and Google and Microsoft are in a pitched battle for cloud productivity supremacy.

Microsoft Office has ruled the productivity software roost for over a quarter century. The cloud may be the one opportunity for an upstart, say Google Apps, to upset that apple cart. That’s why the search giant launched Google Apps as a beta in 2006. Four long years later, it came out of test mode and became a commercial product which has been on a roll ever since.

Microsoft apparently wasn’t happy watching Google come out with cloud productivity apps that mimicked the Microsoft suite. In no time flat, Microsoft had Office 365, its complete end user set of productivity apps with some server goodies thrown in for good measure. In fact, Office 365 shipped only a year after Google Apps went commercial.

Google has had a number of version changes and the original free version of Google Apps has been mothballed. If you want free, you have to go with Google Docs. Today, the best Google tool to compare against Office 365 is Google Apps for Work.

The two sets of tools couldn’t be more different. Google Apps for Work are relatively stripped down cloud tools that are fairly easy to use, and since there isn’t all that much there, pretty easy to manage.

Office 365 is the opposite. This suite has everything the Microsoft on-premises software has. That makes it the suite of choice for buyers who care about features. At the same time, this makes the software difficult to set up, configure, maintain and repair.

So which is right for you? It all depends on your needs, environment, and attitude.

We’ll dive way deeper, but the short answer is if you have complex software and document needs, and have a history with Microsoft applications, Office 365 is the way to go.

Meanwhile startups and those with a history with Google are well served with Google Apps. And if the feature set fits your needs, the overhead is far less than what Office 365 comes with.

Google Apps for Work is also great for one-off projects and document sharing, so many shops use Office 365 strategically and Google Apps tactically. Of course, this is also a role that Google Docs often plays – and at no cost.

Media Web site Better Cloud Monitor backs the assertion that larger, more Microsoft-centric organizations are better served by Office 365, finding that shops that use Office 365 are 4 times bigger than Google Apps shops, and have IT departments that are 5 times bigger.

Which is Truly Harder to Manage?

We mentioned that in general Office 365 is harder to manage than Google Apps. But here’s the rub. When you run into problems with Office, Microsoft has technicians ready to help, even if you have to pay for this support. And Windows admins with Active Directory, PowerShell and other expertise can also be of service.

Google Apps does not have as broad a support infrastructure, and its complexity rises along with the number of users. And despite years in the market, Google Apps is simply not as mature as Office.

And as with any software, some users have problems with one system, while others have grief with the other – often with no rhyme or reason.

Cloud Apps Economics 101

In an interesting twist, Google Apps for Work and Office 365 both start at $5 per month per user. As you get deeper into Office 365, however, the costs can rise and outstrip the Google equivalent.

In fact, the Better Cloud survey from last year of Office 365 and Google Apps users and found two very different worlds.

It determined that both cloud tools offer savings, with a slight nod to Google.

“Small organizations experience the most cost savings on average: small businesses running Google Apps save 42% on average, while those running Office 365 save 28%. However, cost savings in medium-sized and large enterprise organizations are far from insignificant,” the survey said. Medium-sized Google Apps organizations save 40% on average compared to 23% for medium-sized Office 365 organizations. Large enterprise Google Apps organizations save 35% on average compared to 29% for their Office 365 counterparts.”

One advantage for Google users is that partners who need to collaborate with you can activate the free Google Docs and start working with you straight away. In fact, Google Apps was built from scratch with collaboration and the cloud in mind. And the Google suite is still used more for collaboration. “84% of large enterprises using Google Apps experience increased collaboration compared to 72% of Office 365 enterprise organizations,” said the report.

File Fidelity and Compatibility

Many users require absolute compatibility with files generated by Microsoft software. In this case, Office 365 is the far better bet. It can be tricky business moving Microsoft files to Google with full fidelity, as pointed out in a recent article. CIO interviewed Shawn Wiora, CIO of Creative Solutions in Healthcare, who complained about “shared calendar issues, an inability to transfer Excel formulas directly into Google Spreadsheets, compatibility issues and vertical-specific decisions like Google’s past refusal to sing a HIPAA BAA (Business Associate Agreement) for the healthcare industry.”

Despite some glitches, Google has done a pretty good job overall with file compatibility, perhaps because over the past decade Microsoft has made its file formats easier for outside tools, such as, to work with.

Sometimes It Just Comes Down to Attitude

Just as with the PC vs. Mac wars, sometimes what you choose depends on how you feel about the vendor. And much of this is age related. “Younger organizations whose employee bases average between the ages of 18-34 are 55% more likely to use Google Apps than Office 365; organizations whose employee base averages between the ages of 35-54 are 19% more likely to use Office 365 than Google Apps,” the Better Cloud survey revealed.

The Office 365 Opportunity

Clearly there is a groundswell of support for Office 365, so much so that MSPs have been losing money when customers make the switch. It doesn’t have to be this way. You can make money by taking control of Office 365 for clients, and at the same time make the Microsoft suite more cost effective to use.

You can do all this with Kaseya Command 365.

From the initial migration and adding or removing users, to generating reports for auditing assets and compliance, Kaseya 365 Command makes it possible for any level of user, from novice to expert, to easily manage Office 365.

If you want to see for yourself now how 365 Command by Kaseya gives you more effective management over Office 365, you can take a free trial and get a price quote.

Posted by Doug Barney
Doug Barney was the founding editor of Redmond Magazine, Redmond Channel Partner, Redmond Developer News and Virtualization Review. Doug also served as Executive Editor of Network World, Editor in Chief of AmigaWorld, and Editor in Chief of Network Computing.
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