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Google App product manager Shan Sinha on Monday suggested that there are "365 reasons to consider Google Apps." Rounded down for hype, that comes out to four, the number of reasons Sinha actually mentions.
For some businesses, these four will be enough; for others, even 365 reasons might fail to change minds. Microsoft Office 365 has plenty going for it, as InformationWeek's analysis suggests. It will not be struggling for customers.
Gartner analyst Matthew Cain, in a report published earlier this month, observes that demand for Office 365 is enormous. "It is likely that the multitenant version of Office 365 will have several million users on the platform within 12 months, when combined with BPOS upgrades to Office 365," he wrote.
Four reasons do not tell the whole story or apply to everyone. But they provide enough structure to frame the debate.
First, there's collaboration. Sinha claims that Office 365 is designed for individuals while Google Apps is designed for teams.
"You don’t need to buy additional licenses to work with others, or hope people outside your company have upgraded to the same software," Sinha said in a post on Google's enterprise blog. "If you have a Google account, you can collaborate."
Collaboration is actually one of the areas where Google, at the moment, seems to have an edge. As InformationWeek's own Doug Henschen put it, "[Online collaboration] is a key advantage of Google Groups and Google Docs editing that Microsoft has yet to match."
Second, there's mobility. "Office 365 is optimized for Windows-based PCs and devices, which reduces your flexibility," claims Sinha. "Our applications are designed to work well on any device, on any operating system."
This is another area where InformationWeek agrees. Microsoft, with Office 365 and Windows Phone, has yet to match the ease of accessing Google Apps on Android and iOS devices.
Third, there's cost. Google Apps is $5 per user per month, or $50 per user per year, while Microsoft Office 365 starts at $6 per user per month. Though direct apples-to-apples comparison is difficult, the consensus seems to be that Google Apps will remain the more affordable option for the time being.
The fourth reason to consider Google Apps is stability and support. Sinha notes that Gmail has been available for 99.99% of the time this year. That's less than 5 minutes of downtime per month. Microsoft is planning 99.9% uptime but is exempting planned downtime--often necessary to maintain Exchange servers--from its calculation. Microsoft's own literature has suggested could be two or three hours per month. The predecessor of Office 365, BPOS, has had more outages than customers would have liked.
Sinha also observes that Google is transparent about its downtime. Microsoft is less so. It doesn't publish Office 365 uptime statistics publicly, for example. BPOS customers have complained about this, Cain noted in his report.
"Our research indicates that Microsoft's support track record with BPOS is mixed," he wrote. "Customer complaints range from concerns over inexperienced Microsoft support staff to lack of diligence in determining the root causes of problems. Microsoft must improve its support infrastructure for Office 365 to succeed in the long term."
Microsoft may have to do even more than that. Google, having arrived in the cloud first, has changed the game, at least in the SMB market.
Shea Bennett, CEO of Migration King, a Maryland-based IT consulting organization, says that his company's clients--SMBs, law firms, medical offices, government organizations, and schools--don't like complexity and don't have the money or willingness to pay for Microsoft-certified support staff.
His company used to specialize in Microsoft integration work, but had to get a Google certification due to customer demand. "We were a 100% Microsoft shop, and we kept running into the Google wall," he said in a phone interview. "We've actually lost six or seven customers because we were a Microsoft shop."
Migration King does IT integration work in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and Bennett said that government service organizations in particular have shown little patience for the old way of doing this, with on-premises software and servers. These organizations, he said, ask why they should pay for "this complex Exchange solution" that takes a week or more to get set up when they can have Google Apps up and running, and available on their mobile devices, in days.
Ironically, the popularity of the Apple's iPad and iPhone, not to mention other mobile devices, appears to be helping Google woo small businesses away from Microsoft.
Bennett described a recent bid he presented to a handful D.C.-area Chick-fil-A franchise owners, each of whom had an iPad or iPhone. The group, he said, was not impressed with what Microsoft had to offer. "Every one of these guys is wealthy," he said. "And every single one of them said that's not going to work on my iPhone ... The only thing they wanted to talk about was flexibility."
Among SMBs, Bennett said there's real disinterest in on-premises infrastructure and complicated pricing schemes. "I'm a MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer)," he said. "We had to turn around and get Google certs to survive."
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