Google Apps vs Office 365: your choice

In this guest post, French cloud evangelist Louis Naugès, co-founder of pioneering Google Apps reseller Revevol, dissects Microsoft's newly launched cloud apps suite, Office 365
Written by Phil Wainewright, Contributor

Guest post Louis Naugès is co-founder and chief cloud evangelist of international Google Apps integrator Revevol. Based in Paris, he blogs for ZDNet France and has translated an abridged version of this recent post for his second guest appearance here. Last year, his theme was Why Microsoft really, really hates the cloud. Read on for his equally provocative and partisan verdict on Microsoft's newly launched cloud apps suite.

How the world has changed! In February 2007, Google launched Google Apps, its cloud based suite of communication and collaboration tools, in Europe and in the US.

Wind forward to June 2011, when Microsoft officially launched Office 365, its new offering 'in the cloud'. Within a few days, dozens of articles and blogs were published, comparing the two offerings.

You know what hit me? Most coverage revolves around the theme: "Office 365, Microsoft's answer to Google Apps." In the space of just four years, the world has turned upside down. From a fringe competitor, Google Apps becomes the market leader, and Microsoft Office 365 is the challenger! It's a strong indicator of the impact Google Apps has had in its young life.

Google anticipated this announcement with humor by posting a blog entitled 365 reasons to consider Google Apps. In line with its Web culture, Google used 'crowdsourcing' to establish this list of 365 reasons — the final list should be available soon.

For my part, to help organizations make an informed choice concerning their next 'Social Computing solution in the Cloud', I will set out below in the clearest possible terms the profound differences between Google Apps and Office 365.


Microsoft announced that their Office 365 solution is a "Cloud based" solution: Is that correct, technically?

The answer to that question is a clear: NO! Two key characteristics of a real Cloud solution are missing from Office 365:

1. Browser vs fat client. Yes, there is a "basic" version of Office 365 accessible from a browser, but for "serious work" you need the professional version, which necessitates the use of a Windows fat client, natively running Office 2010 and Outlook 2010. In comparison, full functionality in Google Apps is available through a browser on any PC, Macintosh, tablet or smartphone.

Not convinced? Ask the unfortunate CIOs who were tricked into deploying Microsoft BPOS in 2010, the precursor of Office 365. Microsoft is now telling them, quietly, that they will have to organize a full migration, within 12 months, from BPOS to Office 365. This is great news for Microsoft's partners, who will pocket a lot of money managing these complex migrations. But for customers ...

In contrast, even the oldest customers of Google Apps, such as Valeo and Revevol, who started working with this solution in 2007, never had to manage a single migration, despite continuous improvements; more than 100 innovations were added during 2010 alone.

I hope that any organization, and its CIO, who would still be tempted to migrate to Office 365 will have learned their lesson. They should start budgeting a migration to the next version of Office 365 — which may perhaps be named 'Office 366', to account for leap years. I would not want to be the CIO who has to explain to C-level managers, the finance department and all users that an additional migration is needed.

Page 2: Multi-tenant? Mobile? Office 365? »

« Page 1: Google Apps vs Office 365

2. Multi-tenant vs. multi-instance. For more than 10 years, since the arrival of Salesforce, the first major SaaS solution, we have recognised the benefits of a multi-tenant solution:

  • Only one instance of the software for all customers.
  • All clients use the same version — the most up-to-date.
  • Every time the vendor updates the solution, the new version is immediately available to all customers.

Google Apps is a natively multi-tenant SaaS application, as all modern cloud-based solutions should be.

Is Office 365 multi-tenant? The answer is a clear: No. There are still two different versions of Office 365:

  • Version S, for 'Standard', dedicated to small and medium sized organizations.
  • Version D, for 'Dedicated', which, as its name suggests, is a multi-instance, single-tenant version for large organizations. Each client will have their own instance of Office 365 with dedicated servers and files.

This is from the mouth of Eron Kelly himself, senior director of product management for Microsoft Online Services and Office 365, in a comment blogged by Mary Jo Foley:

"Microsoft is so confident that it is multitenant-ready that it is planning to phase out over the next couple of years the Office 365-D (Dedicated) SKU. It isn't doing so within the coming year, Kelly said, but 'we expect one more generation of Dedicated, and then ultimately think (almost) all our customers are likely to go S (Standard)'."

In short: with Microsoft Office 365, there is no multi-tenancy for large enterprises until 2013.

To sum up, then: in terms of its technology, Google Apps is a cloud solution. In technology terms, Office 365 is not a cloud solution.


Anywhere, Anytime, Any device! This requirement is a priority, for me and millions of people today, when choosing IT tools. An iPad or WebOS tablet, an iOS or Android smartphone, a ChromeOS notebook ... they are all members of the family of mobile tools which I have already used or that I may want to use in the coming months.

This is really one of the great achievements of IT in recent years; I can use the vast majority of mobile tools for work. The only requirement I have to access Google Apps is a modern browser.

With Office 365, I immediately fall back 10 years, when only a Microsoft device allowed me to access specific business applicatios. Even Office for Mac fails to work with Office 365 — the last straw!

In this article, Galen Gruman analyzes what we can and can not do with the main mobile tools, and comes to a clear conclusion: "Office 365 ... the essentially Windows-only cloud service has no place in a mobile world and little place on Mac OS X or Linux."

There is, you guessed it, an exception: Windows Mobile 7, the most widespread mobile OS in the world (not!) Another quote from the same article:

"It's shocking that Office 365's Web apps rely on ActiveX and Silverlight controls for many of their capabilties. That proprietary dependence is why any browser other than a Microsoft one has at best limited access to the documents."

To sum up: if you do not want your employees to be able to access your next generation collaboration and communication solution from a modern mobile device, choose Office 365.

Page 3: Calculating the cost of Office 365 »

« Page 2: Multi-tenant? Mobile? Office 365?


Web native or Desktop native? Once again, the advantages of Google Apps over Office 365 are clear. Any content created with Google Apps — text, picture, presentation, blog, wiki, video — is natively shareable. Shareable with all users inside your company, and with all the people with whom you wish to share and collaborate: partners, suppliers or customers.

With the professional versions of Office 365, Office (yes, the same Office of the 90s) remains the preferred tool for content creation. If sharing a document is essential, it's possible to send it to 'Sharepoint'.

It is always possible to transform a horse-drawn carriage by replacing the horses with a motor; doing so does not mean you have created a modern car!

Summary: Yes, it is possible to use Office 365 for some collaboration, but the solution is so complex, unwieldy and brittle that there are major obstacles to adoption. Office 365 is an excellent solution for organizations that fear widespread collaboration could disrupt their traditional hierarchical culture.


Any purchasing manager, any CFO, would love to frequently encounter decisions as easy as choosing between Office 365 and Google Apps.

Google Apps has two major advantages vis-à-vis Office 365: Simple pricing and a lower cost.

1. Simplicity. Google Apps has kept the same price of $50/year/person over the past 4 years. The price is the same for every user, needless to say ...

On the other hand, calculating the full cost of an Office 365 solution will require days of work for a group of talented financial professionals. (This is probably the primary justification for the Office 365 solution: Excel 2010 is required to analyze and compare cost vs features!)

You will, first, have to make difficult decisions: which users will have the 'right' to the premium and expensive solution, who will have to settle for the basic version? The struggle with this decision reminds me of a corporation's choice of company cars; Mercedes or BMW for the big boss, Chevys for sales people, even if they drive three times as many miles than their managers who, in addition, are entitled to a 'chauffeur'.

With Google Apps, there are no 'visual indicators' of power or importance; 100% of employees have access to the only available version which, by the way, is the most powerful and up to date!

2. Cost of solutions. With Google Apps, it's impossible to spend more than $5/month/person. In most cases, it's closer to $4 as organizations will pay $50 annually. In comparison, business versions of Office 365 cost, as the table above shows, from $10 to $27/month/person. That's 'only' 2 to 7 times more.

Let's do the math for a company with 10,000 users which plans to select the Enterprise 3 version, at $24/month, over a 5 year period. Why five years? Few large companies are willing to change their collaboration and communication tools more often.

Google Apps: 10,000 x 50 x 5 = $ 2,500,000

Office 365: 10,000 x 24 x 12 x 5 = $ 14,400,000

This represents a savings of $12 million!

Think of the additional value such a savings can create for the company! It would be a shame not to benefit from this difference.

Simpler! Cheaper! Based on financials, it's an open-and-shut case.

Page 4: Complexity, marketing and choosing well »

« Page 3: Calculating the cost of Office 365


The capacity for Microsoft to generate complexity is amazing! As I pointed out above, during the launch of Office 365 on June 28, featuring CEO Steve Ballmer, Microsoft announced eleven different plans. I will not insult Microsoft by believing the company is not able to provide simple price vs feature options, that can be understood by ordinary people. Another ZDNet blogger has rated this complexity as great news for Google.

This quotation, extracted from a Microsoft site, is a short ode to complexity:

"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 (eg, 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."

It would be difficult to more effectively deter a potential buyer. What are the possible reasons that led Microsoft to this absurd complexity? I see at least three:

  • The 'on-premise' prices of Microsoft legacy solutions installed in corporate data centers have reached even higher levels of complexity. This logic has been extended to Office 365, which makes it extremely difficult to put together an objective comparison of historical cost vs the different Office 365 plans.
  • With this level of complexity, Microsoft can more easily 'negotiate' price discounts with their major customers.
  • It is very difficult for CIOs and purchasing managers from different companies to confer and compare their negotiating capacities.

A fight without mercy, and it's just the beginning!

The University of Nebraska has publicly admitted that Microsoft paid $250,000 to help them migrate to Office 365 and not succumb to the 'temptation' of Google Apps! Everyone is aware that these 'ethical' practices exist but, interestingly, few customers are willing to confirm them.

Never forget the economic fundamentals behind this battle of giants. Office 365 allows Microsoft to keep selling its latest version of the Office desktop solution! In 2011, there are still 1 billion users of Microsoft Office on desktops, which bring an annual profit of nearly $13 billion to Microsoft's pockets.

How many will there be in 2020?

  • A maximum of 100 million, if Google Apps and real cloud solutions truly prevail.
  • 400 to 500 million, if Microsoft manages to sell a lot of Office 365.

Do not be surprised by the aggressive marketing of Office 365 by Microsoft in the coming months!

Summary: Which solution? For whom?

Tweedledum or Tweedledee?

I hope that after reading this text, you will better understand how Google Apps and Office 365 solutions are 'very close'!

  • Office 365: For companies who do not want to migrate to the cloud and prefer to keep traditional tools, disguised as cloud solutions.
  • Google Apps: For companies who have realized that the cloud is the future of computing, and that only authentic cloud solutions can help them succeed in this migration.

From time to time, the choice between competing solutions is effortless, so great are the differences. Deciding between Microsoft 365 and Google Apps is one of those instances. Rarely has making an intelligent decision been so easy.

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