What's your real Office usage? Making the case for Google Apps

Workers use the pricey Office just a few minutes each day, and companies should explore alternatives

Are Microsoft Office users getting what they paid for, or might they be better off switching to a cloud offering like Google Apps?

The average Microsoft Office user spends just 48 minutes a day using the software, says SoftWatch, an "applications analytics" company that not so coincidentally advises companies on making the move to Google Apps.

SoftWatch's assessment of user activity, from monitoring the usage of nearly 150,000 users at the companies that hire it, is that workers spend the most time in Outlook: 33 minutes a day. They spend eight minutes in Excel, five minutes in Word, and two minutes in PowerPoint. Many workers don't use some of the apps at all; PowerPoint is used the least, with 48 percent of workers using it. SoftWatch says its clients thought workers used Office mch more than they actually do.

Based on that data, SoftWatch's pitch is that "at least 80 percent of Office users can move to alternative cloud-based solutions," saving companies 90 percent of their current Microsoft licensing fees by switching light Office users to Google Apps.

But those numbers are likely big overstatements of what most companies would actually see. One reason is that Google Apps is far less capable than Microsoft Office, as InfoWorld's review of the two suites shows. Plus, Google Apps works very poorly in mobile environments. Forrester Research analyst TJ Keitt notes that "usage measured strictly by number of minutes that someone uses something probably isn't the best way of judging its value." A salesperson, for example, might use PowerPoint briefly, but to create complex presentations that have huge value to the business. Maybe Google Apps can be used to create high-value presentations, maybe not.

There's also the cost of file compatibility (which may require more employee effort as documents are exchanged) and maintaining two environments (which would require more IT effort) -- license savings don't factor in those extra, ongoing labor costs. SoftWatch itself notes that it takes considerable effort to move to cloud services like Salesforce.com and Google Apps.

Still, Keitt says that companies may want to consider cloud-based productivity suites like Google Apps (instead of or in addition to Office) or hybrid cloud/native suites like Office 365, depending on its actual needs. The subscription Office 365 suite, for example, now has a set of iPad apps that reduces the file-compatibility issues for shared files, though it does not eliminate them.

Although SoftWatch's savings claims are probably unrealistically high, it does make sense to see if moving some of your users to a cheaper cloud productivity suite does make both financial and operational sense.

This story, "What's your real Office usage? Making the case for Google Apps," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.