Review: Microsoft Office 365 vs. Google Apps

Web browser or Office suite? Microsoft's and Google's office productivity and collaboration clouds pit rich and complex against simple and lean

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Microsoft's privacy policy takes a very different tack: "We use your data for just what you pay us for: to maintain and provide Office 365 and Dynamics CRM Online services. We make it our policy to not use your data for other purposes. While some data may be stored or processed on systems used for both consumer and business services, our business services are designed and operated separately from Microsoft's consumer services. Microsoft does not scan emails or documents for advertising purposes." While obviously Microsoft scans the contents of messages (and possibly files stored in SkyDrive) to protect against malware, we have Microsoft's word that it doesn't use the results of those scans for advertising.

Both Microsoft and Google very explicitly explain that they may serve up your data in response to a properly filed subpoena. Both claim they will try to contact you if the situation arises, although they both are barred from notifying you should the subpoena involve certain governmental agencies.

Office 365 vs. Google Apps: Setup

The hardest part of setting up a free trial for Office 365 lies in choosing the right plan to begin with. If your company is on the "S" side of the SMB fence, the Office 365 Small Business Premium has a free 30-day trial for up to 10 users (actually, 10 email addresses). The plan taps out at 25 users.

If your company has more than 25 email addresses or you figure it'll take more than 10 addresses to get the features tested, start with the Office 365 Midsize Business trial. That gets you started with 25 free email addresses, and everything you set up in the trial can stick with you until your company grows to more than 300 users. That's the approach I took for this review.

Once you sign up for an ID (very simple, no credit card required) and log on to the Admin site with your new ID, you're greeted by the Admin Center dashboard, shown in Figure 1. You can start with the Setup link on the left of the Admin Center, but there's a better way: Microsoft's Office Blog has a new video that will step you through the process. If you want to skip the sales briefing at the beginning (though it offers a good overview of features you may not know about), the meat of the setup help starts at 4:50.

Office 365 Admin Center
Figure 1: The sweep of the Office 365 Admin Center dashboard reflects Office 365's broad feature set.

As part of the setup process, you need to hook Office 365 into your existing email address. If you already have your own domain and email address (such as Woody@AskWoody.com), you have two options: You can either live with the assigned domain name (blahblahblech@AskWoody213.onmicrosoft.com), and stick a file on your website to verify that you own it (as I had to do with AskWoody.com), or you can buy a new domain from GoDaddy (typically $13 per year).

Setting up Google Apps for Business, by contrast, is like falling off a log. You have to go through the same Texas two-step to verify that you own a domain name or buy a new domain from Google ($8 per year); otherwise, the setup process is blissfully simple. Get your admin account set up and you'll find yourself at the Google Apps Admin Console shown in Figure 2.

Click Start Setup, verify that you own the domain name you said you own (a process that's now assisted, step by step, as long as you can log on to your domain's host with admin rights over your domain), and you're ready to set up all of the details for a Google Apps for Business account.

Google Apps Admin Console
Figure 2: Google Apps' much simpler admin console befits a much simpler set of cloud services.
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