With Office 365, Microsoft Takes Aim At Google Apps

by Sam Dean - Jun. 29, 2011Comments (0)

Microsoft's effort to deliver services in the cloud combined with its applications has come full circle with its Office 365 offering, which is freshly out of beta testing. The suite delivers cloud-hosted deployments of Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, and Office Web Apps (including Microsoft's desktop apps such as Word and Excel). There is also a CRM component planned, according to many reports. Office 365 is a clear sign that Microsoft is taking the cloud seriously, as its Office applications suite has long been a big part of the company's business model. Office 365 is also a direct answer to Google Apps. So how does it stack up to Google's cloud-based applications?

With a reference to a coming "Rumble in the Enterprise," The Register offers some good comparisons between Google's cloud apps and Office 365: 

"...Office 365 is a hybrid solution, in contrast to Google Apps, which is native to the cloud. Each Office 365 user, other than kiosk users, must configure their PC with a desktop setup wizard that configures Office, adds a shortcut to the Office 365 portal, and installs a sign-in assistant as a service so that users are automatically authenticated. It is all reassuringly familiar to Windows admins, with everything that implies."

This hybrid strategy is indeed the key differentiator between Office 365 and Google Apps. Microsoft knows that it can leverage the many years of code-building, usability testing, and third-party application creation behind its productivity applications. But at the same time, it can't just concede application usage in the cloud to Google. 

Some may criticize the hybrid strategy as not going far enough in the direction of the cloud, but Microsoft's focus is always on IT administrators, and is of course on existing enterprise users of the Office suite. They are unlikely to ditch their investments in Microsoft technology in unison and embrace cloud applications en masse.

The Register also notes that some of the applications that Microsoft is delivering are not fully baked, and I have to agree. In particular, The Register says "SharePoint Workspace, which is meant to let you view and edit SharePoint documents offline and synchronize them later, is poor both in usability and functionality."

Having used SharePoint and SharePoint Workspace, I can confirm that it is not fully realized. Microsoft has positioned SharePoint in somewhat confusing ways over the years. It started as a collaboration platform, but has rapidly taken on many aspects of a Content Management System (CMS). It's a somewhat unfocused platform.

Still, Office 365 is likely to be the biggest cloud-based competition that Google has yet faced with Google Apps. In the battle they will wage with these cloudy competitors, we'll see whether Microsoft's bet that business users won't switch to a fully cloud-focused computing model all at once will pay off. Look for Microsoft to stay on both sides of the fence, delivering applications in the cloud, but keeping them firmly tied to their local, desktop-based roots. 



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