From Google to Microsoft
Redmond Windows Insider columnist Greg Shields recently moved his company to Office 365 — and off Google. “Office 365 has been a refreshing change over Google Apps,” Shields says. “It’s admittedly still a bit rough around the edges. Merely finding some of its key features is sometimes a challenge. But we’ve so far benefited from the migration. Having moved from Google Apps for Business to Office 365, we love the familiar Exchange interface and really enjoy the full-fidelity features of Outlook and Lync — which we didn’t have before.”
Not all is so joyful, even for a highly technical customer like Shields, a Microsoft MVP. “SharePoint struck us as a challenge, albeit one that we knew we were getting into,” he explains. “The challenge isn’t that SharePoint doesn’t have features; rather, it almost has too many. Figuring out the ones we need and how to best make use of them has required an unexpected effort.”
While some complain about the varying personalities of the different Google applications, a similar knock can be made against Office 365. “If there’s one issue that stands out, it’s the somewhat dissociated nature of Office 365′s different capabilities,” Shields says. “Different functionalities are found at very different URLs, which are sometimes difficult to remember. I look forward to the day when Microsoft better unifies each functionality into an interface that feels more like a cohesive whole. Until then: user training.”
Rishi Khanna is an expert in both Office 365 and Google Apps, and is now on the side of Redmond. “We weren’t sure at first if Microsoft was going to create a competing product for the cloud since they were a little behind in jumping on it. We used Google Apps for almost two years before we moved to BPOS [Business Productivity Online Suite] in 2009 and most recently upgraded ourselves to Office 365,” says Khanna, who’s with IT services provider ISHIR in Dallas. “The most important reason we moved away from Google was the outages that we experienced. We felt the Google Web interface wasn’t conducive to a business environment. Having come from using Microsoft Exchange for 10 years and being very comfortable with Outlook, it was a no-brainer,” Khanna adds.
Despite the bad Google gamble, Khanna thinks the cloud still comes up aces. “For small to midsize businesses, the main reason to move to the cloud is the convenience and limited or no support required to maintain an enterprise-level solution. Microsoft does a great job of delivering a package of tools that companies can use for e-mail, word processing, Web meetings, calendars, document management and other unified services,” he says. “The Google product, even though it came to market in 2006, has been bare bones in most of its features for the longest time. It still is not where we want it to be.”
If you’re interested in compatibility with files generated by Microsoft software, then Microsoft software is a better bet, readers report. Take Word. While not perfect, files and templates taken from traditional versions of Word into Office 365 are fairly trouble-free. The only real rub is the Web version of Word doesn’t support the more sophisticated formatting features. If you opt for Office Professional Plus, you have access to both the local and cloud-based offering.
On the flip side, Google users have had mixed experiences with file fidelity. Johnson, of RHS Soccer Boosters, has had generally good luck. “I’ve seen no significant issues with supported documents that can’t be opened. I do use certain other applications, like Publisher, that can’t be rendered or edited in Google Docs,” Johnson says. “I go back and forth between Excel all the time. I’ve never seen issues with Word documents. Also, I’ve never tested the compatibility of the presentation app,” he adds.
Whatever the level of compatibility, it’s handy to have apps in the cloud and on your own hard drive. “I use Microsoft Office at home as well as work, but having the capability of opening the Google files in Office or not is handy. It’s great for dealing with non-homogeneous systems that the various parents may be running,” Johnson says.
Like any cloud service, performance is based on a complex set of factors — the services provider infrastructure, its outgoing network links, speed of the Internet path, your broadband or WAN connection, and speed of your client device. Given all that, it’s little wonder that performance can vary widely. Reader Doug McDowell has nothing but good things to say about the speed of Office 365. “It’s great, much better than on-premises Exchange and SharePoint hosted in a datacenter,” he says.