Your Office in the cloud began Tuesday with Microsoft's formal launch of the online version for businesses of its venerable Office productivity applications. Called Office 365, the service offers Microsoft Office's word processing, e-mail, spreadsheets and collaboration programs on the web.
The programs are designed to work with smartphones as well as laptops and desktops, and prices are related to the size of the business. Office 365 can be used on Microsoft's servers or hosted in a company's own data center, and it replaces the previous Business Productivity Online Standard Suite. Microsoft also offers a consumer version of Office Web Apps.
Office 365 vs Google Apps
Tuesday's launch was accompanied by events in New York and London. The move is largely seen as a risk that Microsoft had to take. The risky part is that it offers many of the features of the desktop suite at a fraction of the cost, so Microsoft is essentially competing with itself. The necessity comes largely from the challenge posed by Google Apps, as well as online business offerings from IBM, Salesforce, Zoho, OpenOffice and others.
Google is the main competitor in this space, and the search giant was ready with a blog posting Monday that presented counterarguments to Office 365. Writing on the Official Google Enterprise Blog, Google Apps Product Manager Shan Sinha noted several arguments in favor of his company's cloud products over Microsoft's.
Among other things, he wrote that "Office 365 is for individuals," while Google Apps "is for teams." Although Microsoft also pitches its online versions of Office as designed for team use, Google contends that its apps are designed from the ground up for real-time collaboration.
Sinha also wrote that "Office 365 is built for Microsoft," but "Apps is built for choice." While Office is intended to be used on a variety of devices, Sinha contended that it's "optimized for Windows-based PCs and devices, which reduces your flexibility."
Sinha also pointed out that Google Apps was built specifically for the web, while Office 365 has to accommodate Microsoft's older product, and he noted that Office 365 has "11 different plans, three editions, and two tiers," compared to Apps' rate of "$5/month with no commitment."
Although Google argues that Microsoft's need to build on its legacy product is a disadvantage, Information Technology Intelligence Corp. analyst Laura DiDio sees the billion users of Office as Microsoft's strength.
"Google Apps is great for what it does," DiDio said, "but it is not nearly as mature as Microsoft's ecosystem." That ecosystem, she noted, includes the company's established service and support, as well as access to cloud-based versions of SharePoint for collaboration, Exchange for messaging, and Linc for conferencing.
Easy and inexpensive access to Microsoft's ecosystem through Office 365 could have great appeal for small and midsize businesses in particular. For instance, only about a third of SMBs run SharePoint, and the remainder could find the low price and low technological hurdle of Office 365 to be just what they're looking for.