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4/12/2010
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How Do Google, Microsoft Clouds Stack Up?

We weigh reality against rhetoric as Microsoft looks to dissuade customers from experimenting with, let alone adopting, Google Apps.

It was just three years ago that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer got on stage before thousands of IT professionals at Gartner Symposium, derisively downplaying the threat represented by Google's strategy to offer Microsoft Office-like applications in a Web browser. At the time, Google was offering the applications for free, and Ballmer cajoled the attendees with the cliché that you get what you pay for.

But now, with more than 25 million people from over 2 million companies using the free ("standard") or paid ("enterprise") versions of Google Apps, the threat appears very real, and Microsoft is responding with a different sort of rhetoric. Saying that Google's offering is "confusing" and referring to his company's upcoming cloud offerings -- including a suite of Web-based versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint -- Microsoft Office Business Productivity Group senior VP Kurt DelBene claimed that the Redmond-based company was poised to beat Google in the cloud. Microsoft has long cited the inability of Google Apps to properly import and display Microsoft documents in "full fidelity."

For example, when it came to documents that include commonly used formatting controls like tab stops, Google Documents couldn't quite present them in a browser. In an interview with me, DelBene said Microsoft plans to offer "full-fidelity" viewing and editing from within a browser. It was sort of a "Hey, Google, put that in your pipe and smoke it" jab that, unbeknownst to DelBene at the time of the interview, Google put in its pipe and smoked.

In the new Google Apps, Google has ameliorated the fidelity issue with an improved import/export capability that allows complicated documents to interoperate between Office and Google Docs without loss of fidelity. And, in testing of a randomly selected document that's shared weekly by a large group of InformationWeek staffers, it was the Web version of Excel (the technical preview "beta" version) that bombed on the import of an Excel spreadsheet, while the old version of Google Spreadsheets managed it with aplomb.

While the test was neither rigorous nor projectable, it cuts to the chase of how much reality there is to Microsoft's rhetoric as it looks to dissuade customers from experimenting, let alone adopting, Google Apps for any or all of what it can do. Based on the following analysis of the two companies' cloud offerings, DelBene's comment about Google's offerings being "confusing" comes across as being a pot calling the kettle black.

For starters, Google Apps comes in two flavors. One, Google App Standard Edition, is free, includes no support from Google, lacks a few bells and whistles found in the paid edition, and users of it must endure online ads. The other, Google Apps Premier Edition, costs $50 per year, is free of ads, includes frills like built-in support for RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server, comes with significantly more storage per user than the standard edition, and includes technical support from Google.

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