Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Google Apps vs. Microsoft Office 365 - The Trial

A while back I decided to test this whole Cloud thing and trial Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps. I have blogged that I was disappointed with some aspects of MS 365, well here's the results on Google Apps.

To set the scene I am a long term MS Office 2007 user and a small business who has a hosted Exchange server via Fasthosts. It's a good set up but it's actually an expensive set up - having cost me £350 or so to buy Office 2007 five years ago and then £90 a year for my hosted Exchange.

So Google Apps on paper has an attraction as for my size business it's free and at most $50/user/year. With this in mind, I set about setting it up to mimic my domain. The beauty of Cloud computing is that it is meant to take away the dirge and hard work of IT and let you focus on your business. Not as such, Mr. Google.

Google Apps has copious amounts of helpful written information which guides you through setting up the trial to effectively squat on your domain, mine being This means it can effectively send and receive emails from there so that you can trial it properly. Microsoft set you up a dummy site which is very easy and useful. Google try to get too clever and by the time I read that I have to set up an Active Directory Object for each trial user I started to get frightened - and bored.

I spent hours looking in the Fasthosts Control Panel and then calling them to ask about this. After much angst, it was decided that as a hosted user, I did not have they rights to do so. The trial stopped in its tracks. Sort of.

So I decided to set it up anyway, going as far as it would allow me. Gmail is easy and I set up a new user in my domain with a slightly different email alias. From there I tried to enable Google Apps. The most bizarre thing happened. The Apps tried to load then jumped back to the set up screen, tried to load, jumped back etc. It did this without my intervention and would have continued ad infinitum unless I stepped in and stopped it which I did. Repeating the process it did the same thing for Calendar. I stepped back and tried it all again. Eventually it worked,
I sent email to myself, tried to upload files which worked although it confusingly asks you if you want to change format. But uploading folders failed with some error to do with Java. Things seemed to be OK beyond this. My uploaded spreadsheet opens with two pages, one is a large view of the title tab, the other is the subsequent sheet. How strange. It does the same for multiple sheets. But at least the content was OK. Creating your own docs is easy.

However, annoyingly, every time you click on something new a new window opens. Pretty soon you have multiple windows open and you lose your place. Badly. In fact, it's really daft. In Gmail, instead of organising mails, threads appear which you need to get used to but are good. Searching mail is understandably simpler from a web search company but it works. Then there are the adverts. Of course, I am a freebie user and the notion is that if it's free someone has to make money out of you so you are sent adverts.

That winds me up. If you are going to give something away, then do so in good grace and make sure they have the best view of what you are selling. Trust that it has a viral effect and that my experience will drive me to pay the fees required. Don't bombard me with adverts. This makes Microsoft the BBC of the business. No ads on their trial. I hate this new idea that free means money.

Then there is the 'Internet Explorer Compatibility' guff. Google sense I don't use Chrome so it tries to convert me with no reason as to why. So I don't. There that showed them. But wait a minute. I am in Gmail - now where is the link to Google Apps? There are buttons for Contacts and Tasks but where have my Apps gone?

There they are up top left a wispy menu I hardly noticed when I looked for them next to the Calendar and Chat. Nothing intuitive about the interface but there is a lot there. The view on my iPad is similar but I also have the GoDocs App and I haven't yet worked out how to sync my trial to this but I have used this App before and it's good but not great. Go To Docs is better for Microsoft users by some distance.

Google Apps is decent - it gives you up to 5 users on your domain and 8Gb for free. There isn't a worry about using local apps like Office because it is all served by the web which is the bit Microsoft misses. In the end, by some mystery, I can send emails back and fore from what appears to be my domain with my added domain user but not my actual normal email alias as the trial should do.

In reality, to make Google Mail and Apps work in your domain, you need to know where to look in MS Exchange. I don't have an IT manager - that's me - and I didn't know. I wasted too long messing about with this and it didn't work. SOHO and SMEs like me will lose the will to live if this is the case and this is an issue to Google - particularly as the whole point of The Cloud is to free us up to run our businesses. And they don't want to talk toy you as that would spoil their cost model. Intervention on the web is a money sapper. If I can't do it via reading the manual, I am not worth selling to.

For me, as a long term Microsoft user, I have to say that there is safety in what I know. For £15.75/user/month I get a full version of MS Office 365 running as per my set up today plus a hosted SharePoint back end which I don't have today. There is snug feeling about this. Moving to Google, even free, would be a risky step not knowing when compatibility may isolate me - and even though it's free for my level, the potential impact to my business if it fails me on a minor issue is potentially worth far more in terms of credibility or worse than the £189/user/year price tag on Microsoft.

Google has some way to go to convince people. There are still questions about MS 365 to resolve in terms of whether my add ins will still work like, Xobni, Evernote which are now key to my productivity and I am not sure who can answer them. This is the final step for Microsoft in convincing users like me at the cusp of an upgrade not to desert them and go to Google.

Price says Google. Peace of mind and familiarity means Microsoft. Both teams have issues but I would pay the £189 on MS 365 vs Google Apps simply as I don't have enough time to get to know the new features, there are no add ins to make me as productive and the risk of making myself an island of incompatibility at a crucial time is there even though I cannot quantify that risk.

Microsoft still has the winning story. But not every business user is like me. To many, free vs £189 is a no brainer particularly when Google are constantly evolving. Coaxing people from PC to web is the battleground and Google have an advantage that Microsoft underestimate. They have never been a PC application. They are a web company through and through. Microsoft is a PC based company and it has a long way to learn that they are a distant second place or worse on the web.

Google Plus is out and already they reckon 20 million users will have signed up by the weekend. Microsoft should not underestimate the growing link between Social Media and business and office productivity.

Just as people fear and moan about Microsoft's dominant position on the PC, many are concerned of the insidiousness of Google on the web. Both companies behave badly from this point of view. But they are surely the main players in the grand battle for the hearts and minds of small businesspeople.

The battle has begun. I stay in the Microsoft camp. This week I will sign up to MS Office 365 and pay £15.75 per month. I'm actually quite excited about it. How sad is that?

No comments: