The stakes could hardly be higher for Office 365, Microsoft's next-generation productivity suite, launching Tuesday. Office 365 is a crucial part of Microsoft's "all-in" gambit to be the service provider that helps small firms, midsize businesses, and large enterprises move toward cloud computing. The stakes are equally high for enterprise IT leaders deciding between Office 365 and archrival Google Apps for Business: Choose badly, and this cloud suite mistake could be hanging over your head for years.
A replacement for the two-year-old Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) service, Office 365 combines the email, calendar, tasks, and contacts functionality of Exchange with the document sharing and team collaboration of SharePoint, and the instant messaging, videoconferencing, and meeting capabilities of the Lync server.
Central to Microsoft's bet is its assumption that businesses won't want to move entirely to the cloud right away. Email, collaboration, and communications infrastructure will be a leading edge of cloud adoption, in Microsoft's view, but even here, the company expects large businesses in particular to want to support a hybrid mix of on-premises software and online services for years to come. That's a key competitive differentiator versus Google Apps for Business.
Google delivers its mix of Gmail for Business, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Groups, Google Sites, and other applications entirely online. Born in the Internet age, Google argues its services were built for Internet-connected teamwork and collaboration--a generational advantage over Microsoft offerings born in the PC era. Google touts ease of use, lower cost, and frequent feature updates (delivered online, of course) as key advantages. But the company's services stop short of the breadth of capabilities--particularly the communications capabilities--included in Office 365. Microsoft's support for hybrid deployments, the familiarity of its interfaces, and links to on-premises software, like Word and Excel, will influence the choice for many enterprise IT teams. Dig into InformationWeek's point-by-point comparison of how the two suites stack up.