Google Apps Vs. Office 365: Prepare For Battle

With the impending launch of Microsoft's cloud-based version of Office, Google is celebrating customer wins as it girds for war.
Top 15 Google Apps For Business
Slideshow: Top 15 Google Apps ForBusiness
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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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