I should have known that Microsoft, in its effort to compete with Google Apps in productivity, would find a way to package its new hybrid cloud-desktop Office 365 into something that requires a computer science degree just to sign-up.
Breathe easy, Google. Once again, Redmond is alienating potential customers by over-thinking something that's supposed to make our lives easier. Its complex offering of both pricing and services is already making my head hurt.
To start, there are 11 different pricing plans for this new "cloud" model, which really isn't a true cloud offering because it's still largely tied to desktop software. (Note to Redmond: downloading and installing software from the Internet, instead of a CD, does not make it a "cloud" offering.) To make matters worse, the company is making it just as hard - if not harder - for anyone to kick the tires and put Office 365 up against the competition.
I was glad to see Google get ahead of the Microsoft announcement with a blog post highlighting some ways that Apps is superior to Office 365. From the Google post:
Office 365 is 11 different plans, three editions and two tiers. Apps is $5/month with no commitment. We have a single, transparent, low price that meets everyone’s needs, and it hasn’t changed in 4 years. There’s no extras for basics like phone support and robust productivity apps. No long term contracts or opaque enterprise agreements. We also don’t lock you in. By design, we make it as easy as possible for you to move off of Google Apps if you want. We have a dedicated team of engineers whose sole goal is to help you get your data in and out of our products for free.
By contrast, the first question in Microsoft's online FAQ about Office 365 asks about switching from one Office 365 plan to another. I couldn't believe Microsoft's answer:
We encourage you to buy the plan family (Plans P or E) you want to move forward with in the future. If, after purchase, you decide you want a plan from a different family, you will have to cancel your subscription and then buy a different plan (e.g., cancel your subscription to Plan P and then buy Plan E). Please be aware that your data may not be preserved, and you will have to provide sign up information again.
You almost want to laugh.
It's no secret that I've been a fan of what Google is doing with its cloud offerings. I know some people don't care for Google because of their concerns/paranoia about privacy - but you cannot argue that Google has made simple pricing and usage models a key priority. MIcrosoft could have done the same, but as Mary Jo Foley noted in her own post about Office 365:
...it’s hard to deny Office 365’s pricing/packaging complexity. I realize that there can be a trade-off between choice and simplicity, and Microsoft has gone for choice with its myriad Office 365 E plans, K plans, inclusion of a local Office client option, etc., and not a “one-price/package fits all” deal.
You see, Office 365 is not about the user, nor is it about taking the technology to the next level. It's about new revenue models - and locking customers into a complex system that will be hard to get out of later. Indulge me as a quote from the FAQ once more, this time as it relates to mobile access:
Access from mobile devices requires Wi-Fi capability or depends on carrier network availability. Some mobile functionality requires Microsoft Office Mobile 2010, which is included with specific releases of Windows Phones and Nokia phones. Office Mobile 2010 is not included in Office 2010 applications, suites, or Office Web Apps. There are some differences between the features of the Office Web Apps, Office Mobile 2010, and the Office 2010 applications.
The release of Office 365 is yet another example of why CEO Steve Ballmer is leading Microsoft (and its shareholders) down a path that will lead to the company's demise. Ballmer is a business guy, not a technology guy. And during a time when technology is advancing in ways that will make our lives easier and more flexible, Microsoft is operating in a silo of business-as-usual with disregard for technology that can untangle our digital lives.
I've said it before - and I'll say it again. If Microsoft wants to be a player in the next wave of technological innovation, it is time for Ballmer to go. Redmond has proven, once again, that it's completely out of touch when it comes to modern-day technology- not to mention anything remotely "cutting edge."