Office/SharePoint and Google Apps: Skinning the same cat?

Office/SharePoint and Google Apps: Skinning the same cat?

Summary: There's room enough in this town for both Microsoft and Google to compete in the enterprise...Isn't there?


My dad always used to say that there's more than one way to skin a cat. Since I hate cats that resonated nicely with me.  Regardless of how I feel about felines however, it is one of those truisms that applies almost universally to meeting IT needs and requirements.

Present a problem to one IT analyst, programmer, or project manager and you'll get one solution. Present the same problem to another analyst and you're going to get something different, which may or may not satisfy the requirements better than the first solution.

I've paid a fair amount of attention recently to Microsoft SharePoint 2010 and Office 2010.  Microsoft would love for us to believe that the software is so completely superior to Google's Apps offerings that businesses would be foolish to adopt Apps over a Microsoft-centric solution.  Those of us who have been critical of Microsoft for a long time, of course, aren't used to the company creating really compelling desktop offerings.  Sure, they had what seemed like unbeatable market share, but Windows Vista? Really? Office 2007 was excellent, but didn't add so much value that many organizations felt like an upgrade from 2003 was a must-have.

Now, though, Windows 7, Office 2010, SharePoint 2010 (and, to some extent, Server 2008) really do provide reasons to upgrade or potentially adopt/grow a Microsoft ecosystem. An organization could create powerful collaborative workflows around these products right out of the box and for those wishing to invest in development, the sky is the limit for the ways in which they can leverage the platform.

OK, enough with the Microsoft fanboi nonsense...

So everyone gets that I'm impressed by the whole package that Microsoft is pushing for the enterprise. Great. Yet, as Microsoft touts all of the failures of Google Apps in the enterprise and companies who either chose to stick with or return to Microsoft solutions, I can't help but feel that Office/SharePoint isn't necessarily better than Apps. It's just different. Not everyone is ready for different and many cultures can't incorporate different readily.

Google has a platform for development around enterprise collaboration, too. In fact, it has a couple. The company has opened all of its APIs to Apps, allowing developers to create a variety of applications that leverage the cloud-based, collaborative features of Apps. Similarly, Google App Script provides sophisticated tools for developers and organizations that want to extend the capabilities of Apps. Again, with the right investment, the sky is the limit. A variety of examples can be found here; these applications are relatively simple, but suggest that organizations could build their own very powerful applications within the framework of Google Apps (just as Microsoft shops can within the framework of SharePoint).

Microsoft quotes the CIO of Rexel asking, "Frankly, the Google value proposition is cost based, and once you take that away, what’s left?" I would argue that you are left with a native web platform that enables inherently collaborative organizations to work together flexibly and efficiently, with scalable development tools to meet future needs (I know, that sounded a bit like Google marketing speak, but I'm afraid it was all me).

So is Microsoft wrong?

There are definitely things that Google needs to do better to meet the needs of more complex organizations. More granular rights, roles, and permissions for groups and individuals is an absolute must. If I build an accounting workflow an integrate forms, spreadsheets, and reports (all quite possible with Apps and Apps Script), then it needs to be very easy for me to grant access to the workflow only to the groups that need it (without creating or managing multiple subdomains). That seems a no-brainer and needs to happen ASAP if Google wants to counter many of Microsoft's Google-isn't-ready-for-the-enterprise arguments.

As with all things, you have to look at your organization, its processes, and its business rules. I think that most analysts worth their salt could find a fit for Google Apps or a Microsoft platform in whatever group they're examining. In many cases, though, one may simply be a better fit than the other. I strongly believe that there's room enough in this IT town for both suites. They take two very different approaches to the same thing: getting work done.

Are you an organization that can leverage Wave and Buzz, letting workers create sites, share, collaborate, and communicate all day in real time? It sounds like Google Apps may be the best fit for you. On the other hand, are you ready to embrace social productivity, but can't imagine Google's engineering mindset of perpetual beta and rapid, fluid change flying in your business? I think Microsoft has a solution for that: it starts with Share and end with Point.

What has your organization chosen? Tell us why in the talkbacks.

Topics: Collaboration, Apps, Cloud, Enterprise Software, Google, Microsoft, Software

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • What has your organization chosen... its collaborative IT platform? Apps? SharePoint/Office? Something else?
  • Of course it's "completely superior"

    Should Google try a feature to feature death match they'd be blown outa water, which is why Google never bothers despite their constant fud.
    • RE: Office/SharePoint and Google Apps: Skinning the same cat?


      Agreed. If you are looking for more for less money, Open Office is the only thing you should be considering.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
  • RE: Office/SharePoint and Google Apps: Skinning the same cat?

    I get your point, and do think there is room for several players to offer collaborative solutions for all types of scenarios. The problem with the Google argument is that there's no substance to the 'talk'. Namely, when you describe a business problem that would benefit from collaboration tools, you can envision a Microsoft solution, pilot it and integrate it within most infrastructures relatively easily. With Google, it still feels like you're tinkering in your backyard. This is due to a) a lack of Google leadership in demonstrating end-to-end solutions on their platform and b) lack of case studies demonstrating that Google Apps can, in fact, do everything they'd like you to believe.

    All I'm asking for is a head-to-head comparison from both companies that takes a similar business problem for a 500-user organization and has each come to the table with their best solution and the associated costs for licensing, deployment and training.
  • You're missing the point

    Sure, you can do all sorts of things with app script. You can write all sorts of code and get things done with Google.<br><br>The MS approach is to empower an office worker so they can create their own solutions. They design an electronic form in InfoPath, publish to to SharePoint for people to access it, design the workflow in Visio, and display the data with Excel services. All without the need for IT or a developer to write a bunch of code.<br><br>By providing feature-rich client applications and a web based platform for deployment and collaboration, Office / SP is much easier to use and offers much better integration. Plus, you can host the data on the cloud or internally, use presence with Exchange, and connect your disparate data systems from around the organization in one place - with ease.
    • RE: Office/SharePoint and Google Apps: Skinning the same cat?

      @crazydanr@... Sharepoint is a Rube Goldberg machine. Lots of mice running around in there to make things work. If you want to do anything beyond the most basic you need to get into visual studio and learn a whole new set of APIs. It is not something the common .net developer can jump into.

      On top of that you have to buy both the core CAL and the enterprise CAL to get a lot of the functionality such as Infopath forms, integration with your corporate databases, embedded spreadsheets. It can get very expensive. That doesn't include the specialized knowledge needed to keep the system running.
      • RE: Office/SharePoint and Google Apps: Skinning the same cat?

        @pbuonora@... you are incorrect on so many of your points, it would be giving your comment more credit than it deserves to rebutt them.
      • RE: Office/SharePoint and Google Apps: Skinning the same cat?

        @pbuonora Very good. I don't need your credit. Do the work discovering this for yourself. Sharepoint designer and web interface only go so far. Then, Visual Studio is your friend, except you need to figure out how to do things in Sharepoint which is a totally different animal compared to how they could be done in standard .net.

        Also, this is what you get with core CAL and enterprise CAL which requires both core and enterprise. Therefore to create an Infopath web form or to embed an excel webpart you need BOTH CALS. I don't know what is incorrect about the comment.

        The Standard CAL is for organizations looking to deploy a business collaboration platform across all types of content. Use the core capabilities of SharePoint to manage content and business processes, find and share information and expertise, and simplify how people work together across organizational boundaries. Here are some example features for each workload available with Standard CAL.
        ? Sites (e.g., personalized portal content, MySites)
        ? Communities (e.g., enterprise wikis, blogs, ratings, folksonomy)
        ? Content (e.g., content management, documents management, records management, rich media management, legal holds)
        ? Search (e.g., enterprise search)
        ? Insights
        ? Composites

        The Enterprise CAL is for organizations looking to enable advanced scenarios for end users to locate, create and act on data and documents in disparate sources from within a familiar and unified infrastructure. Use the Enterprise CAL capabilities of SharePoint to fully interoperate with external line-of-business applications, Web services, and Microsoft Office client applications; make better decisions with rich data visualization, dashboards, and advanced analytics; and build robust forms and workflow-based solutions. Example step up features include:
        ? Excel Services (embedded spreadsheets etc.)
        ? PerformancePoint Services
        ? Visio Services
        ? Access Services
        ? InfoPath Forms Services
        ? Client LOB integration / LOB web parts
        ? Advanced charting
        ? Custom reports
        ? FAST Search use rights (requires FAST Search Server 2010 for SharePoint)
      • RE: Office/SharePoint and Google Apps: Skinning the same cat?


        There's no such animal as a "core" CAL. SharePoint CALs come in two flavors, standard, and enterprise, which includes standard plus the additional features you mentioned.

        I'll grant you development was not as easy as it should have been in SP2007, which is something they spent a lot of time simplifying. Now you get convenient Visual Studio templates and fairly thorough documentation.

        For the office worker, the goal is to give them the ability to build their own solutions visually, not with code. They're not programmers. And I think SharePoint is better than any other product out there when it comes to that.

        There's no "mice" running around SP. It's a database-driven web server with a vast number of included features and the extensibility to create your own. It's got moving parts, I would argue it's comparable to any enterprise-class business platform.
  • RE: Office/SharePoint and Google Apps: Skinning the same cat?

    Licenses, licenses, licenses, year after year after year. M$FT is a SW company designed to do one thing: sell licenses. Their SW is pretty good and there are other alternatives that cost less with less functionality or different approaches. Make your choice or use both if you want. What is the debate about? Choose one path or another. Whatever best fits your needs.

    I would like to know where Infopath forms and SharePoint server have been used in large scale deployments, say to thousands of users with thousands of transactions or processes per day. It is my experience that they do not scale and are horribly slow. Feedback appreciated.
  • RE: Office/SharePoint and Google Apps: Skinning the same cat?

    I just started using Google Apps to collaborate on a project. It is simple, powerful, it works and it's free. After wading through dozens of Optimize-your-SharePoint, Office or MSFT whatever sessions, Microsoft's software tax is starting to look pretty lame.

    Microsoft products are feature-rich and productivity poor.
  • RE: Office/SharePoint and Google Apps: Skinning the same cat?

    Good line!:
    "Microsoft products are feature-rich and productivity poor."

    This is how I see them as well. crazydanr describes a process which I have yet to see (albeit I do not have the newest versions of all these apps/platforms). He has certainly drunk the MS koolaid! I seriously doubt the average user would even attempt something like he described. It certainly ties you to the MS platform though! Try moving that workflow to another system! Oh, I forgot - there isn't really another system, is there? ;-)
    • Depends on "average user"

      Here's a scenario -
      A company wants to make sure all new hires are done the same way. They draw a workflow of how they want it to happen. First, applicants fill out a form and upload a resume. HR reviews the resumes, and approves three for an interview. Once a candidate is chosen, the form is passed to maintenance and IT so a new account, phone extension, and office can be created.

      I can do this without writing any code in a couple of days. It can all be automated, the data can be centralized, the form and workflow are stored as XML.

      So I guess I have drunk the Kool-Aid, because it gets the job done. Explain to me how Google Apps could enable someone (who's not a developer) to complete a common task like this?

      There are dozens of processes companies struggle with that Office & SP can simplify. You're right, there are no other comparable systems.
  • Power spreadsheets?

    I'm no MS fan, far from it, but I think Excel is about the only good thing they have published. I routinely build spreadsheets that are several MBs (I think the max was 40MB) and that contain pivot tables and lots of functions, e.g., SUMIFS, IFERROR, OFFSET, etc. I'm also a big fan of conditional formatting.

    It's been a while since I've looked at Google's offering but I would be surprised if it had anywhere close to the same functionality as Excel. I do admire Google but I'm not ready to switch to their me-too spreadsheet just because it's free and they're not evil.
    • RE: Office/SharePoint and Google Apps: Skinning the same cat?

      @mplee23 I am no spreadsheet expert, I don't know your data but, at ~40MB you'd probably better go with a database... :-)
  • Google Apps vs Office 365

    Since both Buzz and Wave as proposed by the writer have been discontinued I think this best makes the MS point. Google is a bit mercurial and that's bad business.