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5/6/2013
02:20 PM
Larry Seltzer
Larry Seltzer
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Google Apps To Office 365: Why To Switch

Here's the business case for why I moved from Google Apps for Business to Microsoft Office 365 -- and why you may want to do the same.

Office 2013: 10 Questions To Ask
Office 2013: 10 Questions To Ask
(click image for slideshow)
Since its launch in 2006, Google Apps has been a good way to get email and other services on a custom domain. This is especially true of the free version, which included Gmail, Google Calendar, Google's online word processing and spreadsheet apps and more.

But last December Google discontinued the free edition. This might have not been a big deal for business users, according to Google, since most businesses would quickly hit the limitations of the free edition. But customers considering Google Apps for Business, the premium version, now have reason to look seriously at the alternatives. The most prominent competitor is Microsoft's Office 365.

My own personal domain (larryseltzer.com) has for many years been with Google Apps for Business -- in fact, when I first adopted it the service was called Google Apps Premier. For a number of reasons I recently decided to migrate it to Office 365. In a future story I'll discuss how that went and what lessons I learned -- but for now I'll compare both products and explain why I believe Office 365 has the edge for business users.

Google offers a number of editions for education, ISPs and non-profits but only one edition for business, priced at $5/user per month or $50/user per year.

[ For more on transitioning to Office 365, read Skykick Tackles Microsoft Office 365 Migration Headaches. ]

Microsoft's Office 365 editions are organized differently: Home Premium costs $9.99/family per month, or $99/family per year. There's also an education edition and 8 editions for business offering different service levels for different business sizes.

Even if you're already a Google Apps for Business user, here are a few reasons you might want to consider switching to Office 365:

Better Software

Is Office 365 actually better than Google Apps? I think so, although the difference is not profound in most cases. Neither online version has all the features and power of the full desktop Excel, but both probably offer enough for most users most of the time.

Google Apps has improved greatly in recent years; the spreadsheet even now includes pivot table support. However, it didn't take me long to find Excel spreadsheets that wouldn't import into Google Apps.

Microsoft's offerings include Sharepoint, Lync, and Exchange in the cloud. All of these services have vast third-party add-on and professional services ecosystems (yes, even Lync). And it doesn't stop at the cloud; one of the best things about Office 365 is that it has...

Direct Support for Microsoft Office Desktop Software

This might seem like an odd and anachronistic feature, but in fact it's a profoundly important one. Cloud versions of office productivity applications, whether from Microsoft or Google, are not as feature-rich as local desktop applications. And there are times when Internet connections are poor or unavailable (for example, on an airplane) and an offline model can be useful.

The more expensive Office 365 versions, from Small Business Premium ($15.00/user per month or $150 annually) on up, include a subscription to the full desktop Office 2013 suite for each user. The less-expensive versions, including the non-premium Small Business, don't include subscriptions to Office, but they work with the copies you may already have. Microsoft says Office 2010 and 2007 work with Office 365, although with some unspecified reduced functionality.

More Flexible Pricing

Most of Microsoft's offerings are more expensive per user than Google's, but its features are more extensive. Microsoft's enterprise offerings include such advanced features as email archiving, ediscovery and site mailboxes.

Training

Except for Gmail, none of Google's apps are widely familiar to users. Microsoft Office is. It's much easier to find training materials and consulting services for Office.

Better Service Level Agreements

Both services have service level agreements (SLAs) that promise a percentage of uptime and credits if the guarantees are not met. For annual payment customers, Google's SLA offers days of service added to the end of the service term ("You aren't satisfied with our service? Here, have some more!").

Microsoft's SLA, on the other hand, actually credits fees back to the customer, and at a higher percentage than Google's. Both companies require the customer requesting credit to provide documentation.

Google's Capricious Behavior

Over the years -- especially in the last year -- Google has changed and dropped services, leaving users in the lurch. The discontinuation of Google Apps Standard (free) Edition is an example. Even grandfathered users of that service, and of the free Gmail service, recently lost the ability to create new Exchange ActiveSync connections to the account. That means if you get a new iPhone, in order to connect it to Gmail you need to use IMAP for email, CalDAV for Calendar and CardDAV for contacts -- and Google's implementations of these standards are inferior. For example, its CalDAV does not support inviting another user to a calendar event.

If Google has made these changes, who's to say that the company won't discontinue or cripple some other service you rely on? Microsoft's record on maintaining old, obsolete, even problematic products and services (think Windows XP) is much better.

There are some areas where both Google and Microsoft fall short. For example, consider cloud storage: Microsoft includes SkyDrive Pro and a whopping 7 GB per user with Office 365. That's a small step up from the 5 GB per user that Google Apps for Business customers get, and that is probably no coincidence. But in both cases, the storage is licensed and allocated per user -- neither Microsoft nor Google takes the obvious next step for an organizational subscription: To license storage as a pool that a company administrator can then allocate to each user. (Perhaps some other cloud storage company does this, but I couldn't find one. Since the technology behind it is quite established, I have to wonder if there's an economic reason for this.)

There are also features where both services are essentially equivalent. But it's hard to think of a case where Office 365 offers less to a business user than Google Apps. That's why I made the switch, and it's why you might want to consider making it too.

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kiwibob
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kiwibob,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/16/2013 | 3:25:59 AM
re: Google Apps To Office 365: Why To Switch
I've been a longtime user of Google Apps for the family and went for the paid version a few years ago to drop the ads. Reading this article made me think Office 365 would be worth a try as the Home Premium is quite a bit less than the 5 user Google Apps account.

What took me a while to figure out is that Home Premium doesn't actually offer multiple email accounts (not that I could see anyway), it seems to expect that you would use outlook.com free accounts.

So really the Home Premium option is not a like for like comparison. To go like for like you really have to consider the Office 365 business plans.
Logan Hairgrove
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Logan Hairgrove,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/18/2013 | 2:19:22 PM
re: Google Apps To Office 365: Why To Switch
Google Apps for Business added Google Vault as add-on service that is an additional $5/per user/per month, which enables eDiscovery and email archiving. Previously businesses and schools could use Postini for their eDiscovery and email archiving needs with Google Apps. Google bought Postini in 2007, and now they have integrated the core Postini functionality into Google Apps to make it an even better product with a great deal of domain level email filtering and much more.

Google Apps has a strong Google Apps Marketplace full of partners offering consulting and training services. Plus Google has great online help detailing how to use their intuitive services. Better design requires less training, and empowering users to help themselves is a great strategy.

Google Apps' uptime was significantly higher than Office 365's in 2012, but it's hard to compare Office 365's exact 2012 uptime because they don't publicly disclose all their downtime, which Google does for Google Apps. So do you want an SLA that pays you money or do you want an SLA you don't worry about because the services actually work way more than 99.9% of the time like Google's?

Why did Google drop support for Microsoft Exchange's sync protocol? Hmm... maybe because they had to pay Microsoft money for every user that used it for one. Another is does Google want to trust their competitor's sync service to sync their clients email, calendars, and contacts? Microsoft could break/change the sync service and/or could charge Google more when they feel like it because it's Microsoft's proprietary sync service. IMAP, CalDAV, and CardDAV aren't controlled by Microsoft.

For storage, Google is rolling out 30GB of shared storage that Google Apps users can share between Gmail, Drive, and Google+ photos in the next few weeks. Google Apps administrators can purchase additional storage licenses for their users or allow their users to purchase additional licenses on their own. As for pooled storage, I would think that setup is more like that of a network drive. A work-around would be having one user account with all necessary files, and share those files with groups of users using Google Groups or with all users if that's what you want.

Another point about Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Many existing businesses already have Office desktop licenses. It's great if you can get all your employees to stop using Office, but it's more reasonable to ask why upgrade to the next version of Office? Keeping your old version of Office and using Google Apps most of the time would be a viable solution.
AustinIT
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AustinIT,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/10/2013 | 1:04:54 PM
re: Google Apps To Office 365: Why To Switch
Most people that are experiencing problems (and there are relatively few of them) with intermittent connectivity are finding that it is DNS related. Is that Microsoft's problem? Or, is it their own problem due to how they have configured their DNS settings? You will notice that when problems occur, almost everyone reports that they can still access their services thru the O365 portal (including OWA). That means the services are all running fine in the DataCenter. However, the problem then is Outlook being able to accesss the Server Farm. And these issues are all coming down to dynamic DNS configuration issues that prevent connection to those Servers. And it is usually issues with Autodiscover pulling the incorrect information to configure Outlook with.
AustinIT
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AustinIT,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/9/2013 | 10:59:21 PM
re: Google Apps To Office 365: Why To Switch
I feel for you Andrew. You must be about the only one that bought the lemon. I (and my other MS partner contacts that I collaborate with) have had very few problems with Office365 no matter what the scale of the project. It simply works very well for us and our clients. Much better than any other solution that could call itself even remotely comparable (aka Google).
Andrew Hornback
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Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/9/2013 | 9:25:59 PM
re: Google Apps To Office 365: Why To Switch
So, Larry, did you fall victim to Incident EX3097? The "false positive" as Microsoft puts it is causing havoc for some of the organization that I support. Sometimes I wonder just how asleep at the switch their engineering staff is.

Andrew Hornback
InformationWeek Contributor
Andrew Hornback
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Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/9/2013 | 9:19:20 PM
re: Google Apps To Office 365: Why To Switch
I've found that it's possible to set quotas for users in the Exchange component - you can limit the user to anything up to the maximum size of the mailbox (25 GB is the hard limit in our configuration). However, you can't take that space and assign it elsewhere.

Example - if you and your wife have three kids and want to assign 10 GB for each child and the remainder for yourselves, you can't do that.

Andrew Hornback
InformationWeek Contributor
Andrew Hornback
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Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/8/2013 | 3:34:50 AM
re: Google Apps To Office 365: Why To Switch
As someone who has to deal with, or rather support, Office365 on a daily basis... it's a great product, when it works. However, there are all too often little quirky things happening that Microsoft doesn't seem to know about or doesn't care to report about on their Service Health Status page.

E-mail turn around slow? Unable to log in to Lync? Let me make sure the service is running... all green lights across the board, so it /MUST/ be the user's system at that point, right? And if no other user in the organization happens to be using that functionality at the time being, my team loses time troubleshooting the user's system only to find out that it's an issue with Microsoft's infrastructure and they haven't considered it a big enough problem to report it as a service health issue.

Then there's the support time turnaround on more complicated issues, such as e-mail delivery issues. One example from earlier this year took in excess of 30 days to fully troubleshoot, eventually getting escalated level after level to the point that the automatic system purge had kicked in.

If you have an Android or iPhone, the integration is somewhat easy. If you need to support Blackberries, ensure that you've ordered your fair share of patience. Kudos to the fact that the migration from the Microsoft BPOS product to Office 365 was painless as far as the Blackberries went, but adding new devices and administering them is not entirely intuitive and the portal provided for administration seems to be powered by a lethargic hamster.

Finally, I'll never forget the day that Office 2013 went live... made my life a living hell. We'd been on Office 365 for 4 months without major issues and then, all of a sudden, when the flood gates opened with all of the new users logging on and trying things out, Microsoft's systems simply could not handle the load. Poor planning, if you ask me.

Is it more cost effective than an on-prem solution? Certainly. Is it painless and carefree? Not in my experience, no.

And with regards to your question about license and storage pooling for organizations, there seems to be the prevalent thought process that it's easier to move a user's data between servers if it can be considered an independent unit as opposed to part of a concatenated unit. Also makes it easier to administer permissions and such.

Andrew Hornback
InformationWeek Contributor
ANON1247561180385
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ANON1247561180385,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/7/2013 | 11:37:55 PM
re: Google Apps To Office 365: Why To Switch
A key issue in my case was Windows / Mac compatibility. With an Office 365 licence on my Mac and SkyDrive I can now "seamlessly" share documents across OSs and devices (including my Windows 7 PC at work). I gave Google Docs a good try, but its spreadsheet was a pale imitation of Excel. Similarly, Numbers and NeoOffice on the Mac were not Excel substitutes. So far I haven't found a downside of Office 365 and SkyDrive.
Deirdre Blake
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Deirdre Blake,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/7/2013 | 6:07:57 PM
re: Google Apps To Office 365: Why To Switch
Did they give any indication of why they prefer Google Docs even when they have access to both? Just curious.
ANON1255469923942
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ANON1255469923942,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/7/2013 | 2:26:49 PM
re: Google Apps To Office 365: Why To Switch
My analysis using MBA student assessments for the past several years indicates that they rate Google Docs much higher than Office 365 even though they use MS Office at work.
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