Thursday, 14 July 2011

Google Apps vs Microsoft Office 365 - The End of the Story

The final twist in the saga on my trial of both Microsoft and Google came late last night.
The background is that MS Office 365 uses a SharePoint back end to store files. It assumes that you have a local version of Office because as a product that's how it is designed. So if you receive emails with attachments in MS Office 365 then the common way of storing the attached file is to upload or download the file to and from your hard disk. This seems a complicated way of doing it when normally you would just right click and save the attachment.

But it gets worse. If you want to attach a file in the SharePoint Team Site in MS Office 365, you have to email a link to that document and open that link. SharePoint allows you to share to up to 50 people outside your company. It's a senseless way for a small businessperson to work asking them to keep track of permissions.

And this is the point of what has been a trial that promised a great deal and delivered nothing. I cannot work like that. I am an SME who works at other companies' premises, at airports, at train stations, on the fly. I need products that keep me productive. I cannot be done with dipping into the administration page of my application every time I want to share something. I need an easy way of doing things. I need to have support for new, innovative devices that make my working life easier like tablets, smartphones and, yes, iPads. I need to be flexible.

Microsoft have foisted SharePoint as a back end on unsuspecting small businesspeople as the central storage area for MS Office 365 but it's an enterprise-grade project and departmental product that was devised as a Lotus Notes alternative. It's not a small business product, and it certainly is not a modern solution to the mobile executive.

I have tried very hard to see the way forward on MS Office 365 as I am at a point as an SME when I should be upgrading and I got terribly close to buying. My excellent Lenovo X200 laptop is keeling over with loads on its operating system and I daily face periods where it goes into stasis as every other PC I have ever had has done after a while - something never adequately explained to me but seems to be resolved by buying a new one and starting again. Now I would like Windows 7 not XP and Office 2010 features. To do this without MS Office 365 it would cost over £500 and or possibly a new laptop. That is not a solution - that is the usual 2-5 year upgrade plan PC and MS users have. Those days are t be ended by The Cloud as it's an unaffordable future and there are alternatives.

To go MS Office 365 and solve the problem that way means locking myself into a new method of working which is counter intuitive and restrictive for an SME. Frankly, I don't think Google is a better solution as I am too fearful of isolating myself in the short term, but they have the right approach. Whatever your device is, it's part of the set up.

The Cloud offers so much and in the key area of office productivity it is failing to deliver. Obstinacy and lack of innovation at Microsoft is killing the opportunity as they fail to engage with modern devices for fearing revenue drops while Google are full of their 'change the world' attitude which narrowly misses the point.

Whether we or Google like it or not, the majority of office users are Microsoft based. Google needs to embrace this and give sound alternatives. It is close to doing so but not close enough. Microsoft just seems in total inertia and denial. The Cloud and mobile computing will be what they say it is and that's that. Resellers will lump what they have as a market opportunity or get stuffed.

I have said it before. There is an opportunity for a company to come from left field and re-invent office productivity with the modern world in mind. That company may not be the owner of the operating system and it may not even be visible yet.

But it would be depressing to think this is as good as it gets. The Cloud promises much, much more. Someone embrace and give us what we need. Right now, I cannot afford to change.

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