Is Office 365 worth spending 3x more than on Google Apps?

Is Office 365 worth spending 3x more than on Google Apps?

Summary: Office 365 is three times the cost of Google Apps. It's worth it -- but probably not for the reason you expect...

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Office 365 v Google Apps

Google continues to get serious about unseating Office in the enterprise by offering a bounty for new business customers of Google Docs.

Personally, I'm a huge fan of Google Apps. (I've even penned this piece in Google Docs.)

For many people though the question is: "What am I giving up when choosing Google Apps over Office?"

That question itself speaks volumes about how strongly Office is embedded into the corporate IT mindset. The tier of Office 365 that gets you the full edition of office is three times the price of Google Apps, so really the question should be "What do you get when you spent triple the amount of money?"

No one seems to be asking that question.

Continuum

Office's competition has always been products that have tried to emulate Office's enormous bulk -- think LibreOffice in particular. Google Docs doesn't try to do that at all. It's a very minimal product.

We know that Office is enormous. There is nothing that the entire product suite can't do. People often complain about it's labyrinthine complexity. Another way to look at that is that Microsoft has actually done a skilled job in masking that complexity. There's enough in there to drive even the most ardent power user crazy.

Given Google's engineering resources, and acumen, added to the seriousness of their aggression against Microsoft's market share, it's safe to assume that Google's "light touch" when it comes to Google Docs is deliberate. Even if it could not build a case to replicate Office's complete feature set as a web application, it could fork LibreOffice and create an equivalent to Office 365 -- i.e., a fully featured office suite that's not really online, but bound into the cloud and sold on subscription.

What Google appears to be doing is designing the product on a continuum where you have "every feature you could possibly imagine" at one end, and "minimum viable product" at the other end. Google Docs does work really well for a decent swathe of commercial use cases.

Advantage

If you look at Office Web Apps, you get an equivalent to Google Docs. Both are minimal applications that do just enough to be useful. Both offer extreme simplicity. Access a website and both the documents and the functionality are there. Everything is stored in the cloud so there's no fussing with local file systems.

In this regard, Microsoft has closed off Google's advantage. Both products work the same way, leaving the only differentiator as the additional stuff you get in Office that you can't get from either Google Docs or Office Web Apps.

The trick is to decide whether you have use cases within the organisation that tend to make you choose either "lightness," or "familiarity."

For example, say you run a telemarketing agency and each time you land an appointment for the client you need to send them a report with the new appointment's details. Do you need to do that in full desktop Word, or can you do it in Google Docs and send them a PDF? Or, say you have to prepare a report each month based on analytics from your web traffic. Can you do that in Google Docs?

In both of those cases, lightness wins. I would wager that in most commercial use cases lightness wins and, generally speaking, most people do not need the entire Office suite. Thus, the free or very cheap Google Docs or Office Web Apps product suffice.

But that ignores the "familiarity" side of the equation.

Familiarity on the other hand works from two perspectives. Firstly, you're never going to have a retrain anyone to use Office. Anyone you hire will have used Office, and everyone you already have on board will know how to use it. If you do anything different -- Google Docs or Office Web Apps -- you're going to have to retrain them, which obviously will have a cost.

Secondly, anyone you deal with will use Office, and those use cases you can't control. In the example of the telemarketing agency above, what happens if your client expects you to complete their complex, macro-ridden Excel workbook every week with an update of your progress? Now you need Office just to be responsive to your client's needs.

If you just buy full Office, you don't have to worry about either of those problems. Nor do you have to worry about whether you can trim down the use cases in your organisation such that you don't need Office. (Or, more likely, whether you can identify an audience in your organisation that doesn't need Office.)

Conclusion

I'm a huge fan of Google Docs, and in my work I use it every day. But as has always been the case in the IT industry, no one ever got fired for buying the thing that everyone else buys.

As mentioned, Office 365 is triple the cost of Google Apps, but from a number of important perspectives, there's very little difference between these competitors. Microsoft's messaging products (Exchange, Outlook) are ubiquitous. Microsoft and Google both know how to operate secure, cloud-scale operations. Office Web Apps and Google Docs are feature-equivalent.

The advantage Microsoft has is the enormous, and universal capabilities of full, installed Office. The curious thing is that although you probably don't really need it, and by extension don't need to pay for it, it's sufficiently cheap that you might as well operate on the old maxim that it's easier just to pay for it, and forget about thinking about it.

To put it another way, it's easier just to buy it rather than futz around deciding whether you need it.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Topics: Enterprise Software, Microsoft

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113 comments
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  • still do not support Microsoft

    still is a good thing for future if you do not support Microsoft:


    "
    NSA has total access via Microsoft Windows - you will never be safe with Windows.
    German government warns of Windows 8.
    Microsoft's former chief privacy adviser after NSA ordeal: 'I don't trust Microsoft now'.
    Skype with care – Microsoft is reading everything you write.

    Microsoft's dirty game - rough harassment of the independent journalist trying to uncover the real Windows world!

    Do you know how does Microsoft earn money? Through a bribery in Slovakia, Czech republic, Hungary, ..... How much money does Microsoft have in governments' contracts all around the world?
    Microsoft bribery probe enters Russia, Pakistan.
    And some another corruption and bribing.
    Again another bribing in Italy, Romania, China.

    Microsoft bribes Best Buy staff to slam Mac and Linux.

    Microsoft earns more money from Android through blackmailing Android manufacturers through ridiculous patents than from his mobile operating system Windows Phone.
    "

    therefore if you want to have progress, never give a penny to Microsoft (Office 365 exists just because of Google Apps)
    Jiří Pavelec
    • smh...

      Wow... just wow.
      Hallowed are the Ori
      • yes, it is horrible

        yes, it is horrible, the quotes are from eg these articles:
        http://goo.gl/nwVTSH
        http://goo.gl/dRbM4j
        http://goo.gl/507pyW
        http://goo.gl/PiwtpT¨

        Web Office must have been created because Google created Google Apps, so with Microsoft there is no progress
        Jiří Pavelec
        • I can also link to news articles on UFO's

          guess that makes it all responsible, as all I have to do is make a claim, and don't post the outcome if it turns out to be bogus, right?
          William.Farrel
          • why UFO?

            why UFO? Im talking about real court issues dealing with Microsoft :)
            Jiří Pavelec
          • Because of corruption in Slovakia (by Microsoft) you can not pay taxes with

            http://goo.gl/wQf3XE
            (Because of corruption in Slovakia (by Microsoft) you can not pay taxes without Windows.)

            Just take it as a fact = Microsoft = billion bribes

            don't close your eyes, or are you paid by Microsoft to defend so hardly?

            why do you fight and work for the evil part of the world?
            Jiří Pavelec
        • Links

          Thanks for providing the links. That's more than most posters provide. The first 3 links seem to be about resellers bribing, or about "tipsters" and "no evidence". The last one's a credible link where they did a legal but morally questionable thing - getting another company a good deal to keep them alive long enough to hurt their rivals.
          Sacr
          • are you kidding me?

            Goggle, who makes a mockery of the concept of privacy is the hero here? good lord, at least Microsoft HAS a privacy policy. Plus, I can't do even half of the things I need to do every day with Google apps.
            Bobby Bile
          • In Slovakia you even can not pay taxes without Windows

            In Slovakia you even can not pay taxes without Windows due to corruption. A Linux guy won the court.
            Microsoft is very very corrupting company
            Jiří Pavelec
          • Because of corruption in Slovakia (by Microsoft) you can not pay taxes

            why do you defend Microsoft so hard? it is reality that Microsoft is corruting country everywhere, there is too much issues:

            http://goo.gl/Sy862O
            http://goo.gl/wQf3XE (Because of corruption in Slovakia (by Microsoft) you can not pay taxes without Windows.)

            All is true, not any journalist has been charged for lying, Microsoft is scared.

            therefore you just lie
            Jiří Pavelec
    • Reynolds Consumer Products makes a hat Just For You

      It keeps the guvmint from reading your mind.....
      miker@...
      • Because of corruption in Slovakia (by Microsoft) you can not pay taxes with

        http://goo.gl/wQf3XE
        (Because of corruption in Slovakia (by Microsoft) you can not pay taxes without Windows.)

        Just take it as a fact = Microsoft = billion bribes
        Jiří Pavelec
    • second to none

      Office 365 is not only worth 3x more than of any Google productivity suite, it's the only suite with
      "enormous and universal capabilities like none other". Without it, you are just an outcast foolish rebel. There is a reason why it keeps growing! Numbers speak volumes.
      virgilnet
    • ROTFLMAO

      No, don't use Windows, its compromised. Use product x and you will be safe! /s

      Ha, yeah, keep thinking that. I'm sure the NSA does not have any of their employees hired into Google, Apple, etc. Because that would be just way too hard for a multibillion dollar government agency to do.

      And what the RSA reveal has shown is that Open Source is not a safe haven either as even if you *CAN* look at any code you want, reading code and understanding hidden intent are two different things.
      Rann Xeroxx
    • Can we say paranoid?

      All corporates get up to some fairly dodgy stuff in the name of making money. The NSA can, and does, read EVERYTHING that goes on the interweb, simple! They don't need backdoors and Apple and Google have to give over the data just as much as MS does as well as ALL the ISP's and phone companies. It's the law. Keep wearing the tin-foil hat, it might save you from the NSA reading your thoughts.
      ursulus
      • :-D

        so you say that NSA can read everything (I agree)
        and your second sentence is "Keep wearing the tin-foil"

        :-D

        you should read more to have a better logic :)

        dont forget about this:

        "
        Microsoft's dirty game - rough harassment of the independent journalist trying to uncover the real Windows world!

        Do you know how does Microsoft earn money? Through a bribery in Slovakia, Czech republic, Hungary, ..... How much money does Microsoft have in governments' contracts all around the world?
        Microsoft bribery probe enters Russia, Pakistan.
        And some another corruption and bribing.
        Again another bribing in Italy, Romania, China.

        Microsoft bribes Best Buy staff to slam Mac and Linux.
        Because of corruption in Slovakia (by Microsoft) you can not pay taxes without Windows.

        And this is GREAT! example how Microsoft lies lies lies to push Windows in every government (Munich, Germany).
        And here is the response of Munich proving Microsoft is just a liar and briber. Beautiful example how Microsoft is taking control over governments.....fortunately unsuccessful in this particular case.
        "
        Jiří Pavelec
    • A little paranoid

      Where I dont argue with you, it does seems as you are going a little of the deep end with some of the points you have made. That being said, what makes you think Google or Apple are any better?
      ajpinton
    • Sheesh...

      Did Bill Gates kick your dog, or something? Get a grip.
      notme403@...
  • Excel

    Ever use google spreadsheet? Sure it does OK for the most simple tasks by rarely is a useful spreadsheet simple. Excel simply blows away Google spreadsheet. I just get so frustrated with Google spreadsheet I've just given up and gone back to Excel.
    For word processing I personally never use advanced features so Google Docs is just fine there.
    RF9
    • Word Also

      Try using any of the advanced features like outlining, table of contents, indexes. Word works well, Google Docs is lacking to frustrating. lf all you want is a simple letter or memo then Google Docs is OK but so is WordPad which come free with every copy of Windows. I want a word processor that cannot only handle the simple things easily but also deals with more sophisticated things easily without having to learn a new program.
      MichaelInMA