Web browser or Office suite? Microsoft's and Google's office productivity and collaboration clouds pit rich and complex against simple and lean
Google Apps for Business options
In startling contrast, Google Apps for Business has just two primary options. The basic package costs $50 per user per year, and the Premium package costs $120 per user per year. The contents of the basic package haven't changed much in years. Basic includes Google Docs for word processing, spreadsheets, slideshows, forms, and data storage (all free at docs.google.com); Gmail and Calendar (free at mail.google.com); Google Groups (also free); a website building utility called Sites; the Postini spam filter; and a video-sharing app. Those paying for Google Apps for Business get 30GB of storage per user, allocated across both email and general online storage. There's a free 30-day trial.
The Premium package includes Vault, an email management package that helps with legal and compliance requirements, archives, domainwide search, retention, and restoring deleted messages. Vault lives entirely in the cloud; there's no application to install.
There's also a Google Apps Marketplace, an online store that sells apps designed to run with Google Apps.
Google Apps for Government, for governmental organizations in the United States only, has full FISMA accreditation and costs $50 per user per year. Similar versions are available in some other countries.
When you pay for Google Apps, you pay for 30GB of Google Drive and email storage space for each mail account, for the programs that let you manage an unlimited number of email accounts on your domain, and for phone support. Google Apps for Education and Google Apps for Nonprofits are free. All packages can handle an unlimited number of users.
What's new in Office 365
At its most fundamental, the major change is that Office 365 now includes Office 2013. With a slew of interesting new features and a handful of dubious "improvements" that can easily be undone, the new Office suite makes it easier to put your data in the cloud where it will be right at home with the rest of Office 365. There are worthwhile features to make Office 2013 touch friendly, as well as changes to the plumbing that make it work better with the rest of Office 365.
Thanks to vast improvements to the Office suite's Click to Run (C2R) capabilities, it's faster and simpler to set up Office programs on licensed machines, to manage the programs (for example, add or remove machines from the authorized list), and to keep on top of patches (C2R apps check every time they're initiated and install patches as available). To date, Microsoft's track record on C2R patches has been much, much better than that for the standard Windows Update/WSUS route.
Don't let the term "Click to Run" confuse you. Office 365 installed by C2R puts the programs on your local drive. You don't need to be connected to the Internet in order to run all of your Office programs -- the streaming download typically occurs only once. You can, however, remove a machine from your authorized list, and that machine will no longer be able to run the Office 365 programs.
The Office apps are now bound together by the user's Microsoft account, so recent document lists, custom dictionaries, and some settings travel from machine to machine -- in some cases, to the Office Web Apps as well. Save a Word doc on SkyDrive using your laptop, then pick it up with the Word Web App or a copy of Word on another machine; when you return later, Word is smart enough to offer to go back to the point where it was last edited.
New "Wave 15" (2013) versions of Exchange Server, Lync Server, and SharePoint bring dozens of worthwhile new features. Top on the list might be the streamlined (and Web-based) Exchange Administration Center, which has taken on new responsibility for managing public folders. The Outlook Web App picked up the ability to store messages locally and have everything updated when the computer reconnects to the Internet. The new Lync Web App lets users without the Lync client join and participate in meetings using just a browser. These are only a few of the most important improvements. Rest assured that all of the advances you see in on-premises server capabilities are being mirrored in Office 365.
Office 365 Enterprise now offers tools for splitting out on-premises servers and data stores from analogous services in the cloud. In most cases, on-premises and cloud settings -- including user management -- take place in one, integrated interface. That should make it much easier to migrate to the cloud.
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