Understanding the differences between the all in one solution applications such as Google Apps and Office 365 is a little bit like the comparison made a few years ago by an Italian journalist Umberto Eco between Apple and PC’s.

Umberto argued the following:

‘The fact is, that the world is divided between users of the Macintosh computer and users of MS-DOS compatible computers. I am firmly of the opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant. Indeed, the Macintosh is counterreformist and has been influenced by the “ratio studiorum” of the Jesuits. It is cheerful, friendly, conciliatory, it tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach – if not the Kingdom of Heaven – the moment in which their document is printed. It is catechistic: the essence of revelation is dealt with via simple formulae and sumptuous icons. Everyone has a right to salvation. DOS is Protestant, or even Calvinistic. It allows free interpretation of scripture, demands difficult personal decisions, imposes a subtle hermeneutics upon the user, and takes for granted the idea that not all can reach salvation. To make the system work you need to interpret the program yourself: a long way from the baroque community of revelers, the user is closed within the loneliness of his own inner torment.’

The current face off between Google and Microsoft is not dissimilar. In the pursuit of the perfect all in one solution, take a look at our overview of each.

Office 365
Following the point made by Umberto, Office 365 for Enterprises is a product that offers salvation to those who are prepared to put the effort in. Out of the box you can set up a powerful messaging and collaboration platform (using Lync), and you can set up the saving of documents to an online SharePoint platform. Effort is required, however, to commission the collaboration features of Office 365- and in our experiences you will need to employ SharePoint expertise as part of the roll out of such technology.

Mobile connectivity is also impressive on Android and Windows mobile but there is an extra charge for BlackBerry. Connectivity is the same as people are used to with BlackBerry services today.
Office 365 also includes impressive Unified Communications capabilities. You can federate users on Office 365 to other company’s using Lync, and it has superior sharing and collaboration facilities borne out of its Live Meeting service.
The Office Web apps also offer a similar look and feel to Office, therefore there is a shorter learning curve than using Google Apps.

Google Apps

Google represents the purest form of cloud computing, built from the web up. It means that anyone with access to an internet browser can use the suite of applications within Google Apps. It offers mail, calendar, contacts, sites and Google Talk, with the ability to use a custom domain (we are surprised how many people do not realise that you can use your own Internet domain) and also include an Office compatible web apps suite for good measure.

Google offers a range of features in its Google Apps for business service that offer immediate gratification and ‘out of the box’ features that include superb collaboration and the ability to use your existing Microsoft Applications with the Google back end. The integration is not perfect and would need to be tested, but it is a pretty compelling experience for the investment required. Mobile connectivity is well catered for, as all of the leading mobile devices are able to connect via Google Sync and sync mail, contacts and calendars. In the case of the iPhone and Android (arguably the two platforms that will be left standing in the coming months) you can sync and search server side, a service that has only really been available for people with a large Exchange environment until now.

Google apps includes Google Hangouts, based on the Plus service, this allows up to 20 people to talk in real time and perform a variety of sharing and collaboration tasks. It is likely that Google will charge for this in the future, but for now it is a very attractive add-on for people using the platform.

The Future

The soon to be released Office 2013 will see Microsoft further consolidate their strategy to make their products ‘more cloud like’. Critically it will appeal to corporate IT departments where the new functionality in Office 2013 will allow public sharing via SkyDrive, and of course integration with enterprise storage such as Sharepoint.

Google Apps have, as expected, modified the Google Plus offering so that it is far more enterprise friendly with restricted sharing and integration with calendar and email. Using video conferencing as a part of on line collaboration is a natural extension and Google has a superb integration.

One cannot rule out the importance of federation either. Box.com is leading the way here with a tight and well managed service that integrates with Google and Microsoft solutions. People using Box can easily setup secure areas to create virtual deal rooms between partners and suppliers, and integrate this into existing applications. Box is a leading light in the BYOD strategy as it allows an enterprise client the chance to give the users what they want, by allowing use on devices whilst maintaining enterprise security. It is not always that easy to move email systems, particularly with larger numbers of users.

Which all in one solution should you choose?

Choosing a cloud based mail and collaboration service from any of the big players is akin to choosing a luxury car. All luxury brands can get you from A to B but they will do it in slightly different ways, and portray a view of the type of decisions you as the driver have made to choose that car. Google and Microsoft want IT to be fun and productive, and these products go some way towards offering this.

For the IT departments in Mid Market to Enterprise, Microsoft is a logical choice- it is more complex to set up and in larger deployments the lower disruption should not be underestimated. A business can deliver a cloud based solution and if they wish the users can almost migrate with a minimum of disruption.
In a more disruptive and indeed more maverick type company, Google Apps is the friend of the anti microsoft brigade, but it has a strong enterprise pedigree and has won a considerable amount of paudits with their larger corporate wins with Rentokil, BBVA, Hillingdon council and others. There is also much to be said for the simplicity of its licensing model and cross platform and device support.
Either way people are not going to put up with a lack of choice for much longer. People want their own devices and their own way of working. I cannot think of a time where it has been easier to achieve this.

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