Over the past few months, Microsoft has greatly improved its attempts to compete with Google in the cloud. Although Microsoft entered the cloud industry only a year ago when it launched Office 365, a hybrid cloud solution for businesses, it is aiming to compete with Google Apps, who has had a presence in the cloud for six years now. The tools in Microsoft’s arsenal include a “Google Compete” team, where goal is to prevent active Microsoft customers from converting to Google, a raise in commission to Office 365 resellers, and a recent price drop and platform addition for Office 365.
The Wall Street Journal was among the first to report on Microsoft’s “Google Compete” team and its failed attempt to keep the Virginia marketing firm, Dominion Enterprises, as a Microsoft customer. Despite a special tour of Microsoft’s headquarters that showcased the company’s research lab, new technologies, and existing products, Dominion Enterprises’ CIO Joe Fuller still chose to have Google Apps setup for his company. Fuller gave some of his reasons for making the switch, including that Google has what he believes to be a cooler product and that Google Apps cost him 50% less ($200,000 a year versus $2 million) than Office 365.
While the “Google Compete” team works to hold onto existing Microsoft customers, other efforts are aimed at attracting new customers. Specifically, moves like increasing commissions paid to Office 365 resellers and lowering the price of Office 365 platforms are Microsoft’s attempts to combat a trend reported by the research firm Gartner Inc. In May, Gartner released a report stating that, among businesses moving to web-based software, 1/3 to 1/2 is going Google. And this report comes after a 2009 prediction by the same firm that, by this point in time, Microsoft would be outselling Google by a ratio of four to one.
But even before Gartner released the May report, Microsoft was working hard to attract new customers away from Google. In March, Microsoft lowered the prices of Office 365 platforms by up to 20% and added a new platform for education. Nevertheless, Google Apps for Business still costs less overall, as the entire apps suite runs for $50/user/year regardless of how large or small a business may be, and includes a larger variety of platforms, with services available for government and educational institutions as well as non-profit organizations and businesses.
In addition to these differences that are obvious on the surface, the two cloud computing platforms have differences that play a major role in user experience. Although both Google Apps and Office 365 allow for email, calendar usage, and document-creation, both use different programs for these purposes. Google Apps utilizes Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, Google Documents, and more, all of which allow for top levels of collaboration. Office 365 combines programs including Exchange, Lync, SharePoint, and Office Web Apps.
Perhaps the largest factor that separates these two platforms, though, is the extent to which they function in the cloud. Google Apps is a fully cloud-based program, as it operates entirely within the web browser and does not include any additional software or hardware. A subscription service, users can access their Google Apps accounts from any web-enabled device, giving true meaning to the idea of universal access. Office 365, however, is a hybrid cloud solution, as it requires some installation and additional servers and software. While users can access parts of their accounts from remote locations, the need for installation and additional software does limit the mobility of data and information that users can enjoy.
While Microsoft has certainly increased the competition in the cloud with these recent efforts to attract more new customers and better retain existing ones, many of the big differences between Google Apps and Office 365 that favor the former over the latter still remain, making it questionable that Microsoft will close the gap any time soon.
Cloud Sherpas is a leading cloud service provider and was named the “Google Enterprise 2011 Partner of the Year.” As one of the first Google Enterprise partners, Cloud Sherpas has migrated over one million users across a variety of industries from legacy, on-premise messaging systems to Google Apps, helping organizations adopt cloud computing to innovate and dramatically reduce their IT expenses. A Google Apps Reseller in Atlanta, GA, Cloud Sherpas has regional offices in locations including San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Austin and Sydney, and has more Google Apps Certified Deployment Specialists than any other partner in the world.