Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Google Apps Vs. Office 365: Prepare For Battle

Software giant Microsoft is playing coy. The company on Monday announced that its Office Division will be making an announcement on Tuesday, June 28. What about? Microsoft's event invitation says only that the news has something to do with Office 365, the long-awaited cloud-based version of its Office software.
Microsoft seems determined to pretend that VP Jon Roskill hasn't already eliminated the possibility of surprise. In a Twitter post in early June, Roskill revealed that Office 365 will move
from beta testing to general availability on June 28.
Google and the other companies involved in the cloud productivity competition--IBM, Novell, ThinkFree, Zoho--have been preparing for this day, the moment when the battle of the cloud productivity suites is joined in earnest.
Taking a few last shots at its approaching foe before it has to grapple with Office 365 at every sales call, Google on Tuesday revealed that the State of Wyoming has finished moving all 10,000 state government employees to Google Apps for Government.
One day earlier, Google presented a testimonial from Terry Geiger, director of corporate IT at The McClatchy Company, about how his company has "gone Google."
And amid these customer-win stories, Google just released an enhancement to Google Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office that allows users to open any Office file stored in Google Docs directly from within Microsoft Office.
Google has been spending a lot of time thinking about Microsoft recently. So have its business customers.
McClatchy has decided to ditch Microsoft Exchange and adopt Google Apps for email, collaboration, calendars, chat, and website creation for its 8,400 employees. The company plans to stop upgrading Microsoft Office licenses en masse and to encourage the organic adoption of Google Docs.
Geiger's "Dear Steve" letter, in which he breaks up with Microsoft, derides Microsoft Exchange as complex, expensive, and cumbersome. He says that his company weighed Google Apps against Office 365 and its predecessor, BPOS, and found Microsoft's products wanting. As Geiger sees it, Microsoft fails to understand the "service" part of software-as-a-service.
"Microsoft may still be the personal productivity leader, but Google is the team productivity leader," he wrote. "Google Apps and its collaborative nature are really where we want to go. Google has a better service strategy, better collaborative strategy, and a better cost structure."
Geiger in a phone interview clarified that his company primarily evaluated BPOS and considered Office 365 based on the descriptions provided by Microsoft sales representatives, since 365 was not yet available. He said that while price was a significant factor, it was not a deciding one, adding that the pricing structure of Microsoft's offerings is "very complicated."
Geiger said his company's decision focused on functionality and service. In contrast to Google, which pursues a strategy of rapid iteration, releasing ongoing updates every few days or weeks, he found Microsoft's approach antiquated. "As we talked to Microsoft about it, they still seemed stuck in the old model of a software company with a normal development and release cycle," he said. Microsoft, he suggested, seems to be committed to business-as-usual, developing its traditional product line, with long release cycles, and then pushing updates to the hosted versions of the applications.
With regard to service, Geiger said the inquiries he made to other Microsoft BPOS customers were not promising. "I didn't speak to a single satisfied customer with BPOS," he said, noting that they cited issues like long and frequent outages. (In fact, one such outage was reported on Wednesday.) "Microsoft still isn't a service-minded company," he said. "They're still a software development company that's trying to understand the service model."
The biggest hurdle to going Google, said Geiger, involved issues of data privacy and legal discovery. As a news organization, McClatchy was concerned that governments might try to obtain access to its confidential information by sending subpoenas to Google rather than challenging McClatchy in court.
Geiger said that his organization came away satisfied with Google's representations about privacy and security policies, though he also said that Google made minor adjustments to its agreement with McClatchy to assure that Google's response to subpoenas aligned with McClatchy's interests. He declined to elaborate on the specifics of those contractual terms.
Yet for all its bravado and first-mover advantage, Google is worried and Phil Karcher, an analyst with Forrester Research, suggests the company should be. In a phone interview, he said that the availability of Office 365 will have a negative impact on Google, though that won't necessarily lead to a surge in Office 365 usage.
Karcher said that a lot of large companies piloted Google Apps "as leverage to extract concessions" from Microsoft when it came time to renegotiate software licenses. That gambit may become less necessary now that Microsoft has a competitive cloud offering.
Office 365 also includes collaboration features--one of the main selling points of Google Apps--so Google Apps will be less able to claim collaboration as a point of differentiation.
"The main obstacle to folks moving to Google Apps overall has been the ability to bridge on-premises deployments to the cloud," he said. "Microsoft has a major advantage because it's so entrenched in IT departments, it can take customers on that long journey with ease."
A measure of that entrenchment: Forrester's Q1 2011 Global Desktop Innovation Online Survey, answered by 150 IT respondents, found that while many IT departments support Microsoft Office 2003 or earlier (74%), Office 2007 (72%), and Office 2010 (52%), few support Google Docs (8%). IBM Lotus Symphony was even less well represented (4%). And Karcher noted that actual deployments are probably even lower than that because many respondents described their use of Office alternatives as pilot tests rather than active implementations.
Karcher expects that Google will retain the advantages of cost and affection--based on Forrester's research, he said, "Google Gmail and Docs, in terms of popularity, just blows Office Web apps out of the water."
Geiger echoed that assessment, noting that people at McClatchy were very excited about the move to Google Apps and that among the hundred or so email messages he has received about the decision, the overwhelming number expressed support and only a few voiced concerns.
Unfortunately for Google, corporate IT buying decisions tend not to be decided by popular vote.

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