Microsoft Office vs. Google Apps: The business brawl

Both companies face unique challenges in their bid to dominate the next-gen productivity suite market

In the business battle to rule the enterprise office suite of the future, Microsoft and Google both must overcome significant problems.

On Google's side, despite the Google Apps price advantage and Google's announcement that 2 million companies are now using Google Apps, various research data still shows Google is losing out in the enterprise. Google Apps adoption not only lags way behind Microsoft but also trails behind OpenOffice and even IBM's Lotus Symphony. Estimated revenue for Google Apps in 2009 is $50 million, a tiny portion of the company's $22 billion war chest.

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Microsoft, meanwhile, must be competitive with Web apps -- but not too competitive, since these apps will presumably drive much less revenue than its longtime cash cow, the traditional Microsoft Office suite. In fiscal year 2009, Microsoft's business division (of which Office is a major component) generated a healthy $18.9 billion in revenue. Microsoft must also convince customers that it "gets" cloud computing the way that Google does.

If anyone has the cash and the consumer branding power to take on Microsoft, it's Google, analysts say. But there's still plenty of explaining to do.

Web apps by the numbers

The enterprise today is offered a plethora of productivity tools: There is the big horse, Microsoft Office, followed by lower-cost or free alternatives such as IBM's Lotus Symphony and Web-only products Google Apps and Zoho's Office Suite, among others.

Yet although the Web browser may be the most prevalent computing platform for both consumers and businesses, enterprise use of cloud-based alternatives compared to Microsoft Office remains low, according to recent data from Forrester Research.

[ For complete coverage of the Cloud App Wars -- including a complete guide to the business war, the competing products including Google Docs and Office 2010, the implications for users and IT, and more -- see CIO.com's Cloud App Wars Bible. ]

In a March survey of 115 North American and European enterprise and SMB technology decision-makers, Forrester cites that 81 percent are currently supporting Office 2007, while only 4 percent are using Google Apps.

Moreover, despite Office 2010's higher price than current alternatives, one-third of survey respondents plan to upgrade to Office 2010 in the next year and one-quarter plan to upgrade in the next two to three years.

So does Google Apps stand a chance against Microsoft Office in the enterprise? Maybe not right away, but Google is in a good position to advance as the enterprise shifts to the Web, say industry analysts.

"Google is a Web company, and it has the most resources to bring the enterprise to the Web," says Sheri McLeish, analyst at Forrester Research, adding that "mixed environments where Google complements Microsoft are the wave of the future."

[ For complete coverage on Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration software -- including enterprise and cloud adoption trends and previews of SharePoint 2010 -- see CIO.com's SharePoint Bible. ]

However, McLeish is not convinced yet that Google is fully committed to the enterprise, saying that while Google's clean and simple user interface caught on with consumers, it may be too limited for businesses.

"For instance, Google Wave seemed like a good idea, but it needed a critical mass and didn't get it," says McLeish.

Google Apps and Office 2010: Prices and features

Google Apps has a price tag of $50 per user per year that includes Gmail with 25GB of storage, Google Docs (word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation creating tools) and other apps such as Google Sites and Google Talk. Google's Postini virus and spam protection also comes with the suite. There is an extra fee for message archiving of $13 or $33, depending on the duration of archiving needed.

Last month, Google revamped its Google Docs editing tool to improve speed and real-time collaboration, an area where Google Apps trumps Office.

[ Thinking about switching to Google Apps? Here's everything you need to know, from the tools it includes to security and privacy features: Google Apps FAQ.]

On the Microsoft Office side, price for the full suite range from $150 to $680 depending which of its many versions you are looking for. With Office 2010, Microsoft will be offering Office Web Apps, free but not fully-featured online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.

There will be three versions of Web Apps: One for consumers supported by ads; a hosted version for businesses that pay for hosted accounts on Microsoft Online Services, which is powered by SharePoint; and a corporate in-house version for enterprises with volume licenses for Microsoft Office and a SharePoint server.

Office 2010 will launch for businesses on May 12, but Office Web Apps are not scheduled to launch until mid-June.

Microsoft also has BPOS (business productivity online suite) in its arsenal, a part of Microsoft Online services that includes online versions of SharePoint, Exchange, Office Communications Server and Live Meeting for $10 per user per month for all four apps.

Built for enterprise vs. built for cloud

Despite the cost advantage of Google Apps -- an advantage perhaps even more attractive at a time of economic recession and a time when consumers are used to Web apps for home computing -- Forrester's research is not the only data showing Google trailing by a mile in the adoption race.

A survey of 800 IT managers worldwide in January 2010 by ITIC (Information Technology Intelligence Corp.) shows that 4 percent of businesses are using Google Apps for their main e-mail and productivity software. The survey also shows that Google Apps is most widely adopted at small businesses.

The barrier to entry for Google, says McLeish, is Microsoft's vast experience serving and supporting enterprises. "The foundation has been laid for Microsoft in the enterprise," she says. "It says a lot that it can still demand high prices for the full versions of Office when Google Apps are free or much cheaper."

Microsoft is quick to call out that it is a company built for businesses, while Google was built for consumers.

"We'll ask customers: Are any of these new entrants really committed to online productivity services for the enterprise?" says Ron Markezich, Corporate VP of Microsoft Online Services. "Are they making investments in the enterprise for the long haul? It's taken Microsoft 15 years to prove that we are committed to serving enterprises and now of course that's a large part of our business."

Big fear: Cannibalize Office, fail to kill Google

But even with Google's tiny presence in the enterprise, it is still a giant brand name with deep pockets and products that most consumers (who also work at enterprises) are familiar with, particularly Gmail.

It may not be a true threat to Microsoft's enterprise customers now, but Google's cloud-based productivity apps have forced Microsoft to change its business model. Microsoft has created online versions of its software products, dropped prices, and must justify to enterprise customers why they should pay top dollar for Office and Exchange when they could "Go Google" and save money.

This new dynamic has created a difficult conflict for Microsoft where it has to promote cloud-based apps to the detriment of its franchise desktop software products, says veteran tech analyst Roger Kay.

"Microsoft needs to be successful with Web apps, but not too successful," says Kay. "They're not getting full revenue from its cloud apps, so they need to make them lightweight enough that people will upgrade to the full paid product, which is Microsoft's cash cow. Microsoft will be reluctant to give up on anything that makes them money."

This conundrum is not an easy one for Microsoft resolve, says Kay, adding that the worst case scenario for Microsoft is that Office Web Apps and Exchange and SharePoint Online take off and cannibalize Microsoft's client software, yet still fail to kill off Google Apps.

Google itself concedes that any overnight success in the enterprise is unrealistic, yet it remains fully committed to the enterprise, citing rapid growth in Google Apps' short three-year life span.

"Google Apps have only been in the market since 2007, and we've gone from zero to two million business customers," says Rajen Sheth, Google's senior product manager for Google Apps. "There's so much potential here, and we're in it for the long haul."

Where Microsoft is trying to migrate its products into a cloud environment, Google is fundamentally a cloud company, says Sheth, and has gone to great pains to build extremely large data centers designed specifically for nimble Web-based applications.

"It will be tough to build up the cloud expertise that's been built into Google's DNA since day one," Sheth says.

Would Microsoft be all in for cloud if not for Google?

Still, the reality of today's enterprise is that Google Apps are simply not a wholesale replacement technology for Microsoft Office, says Ted Schadler, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.

"You may see enterprises move to Google for e-mail, but rarely will you see them replacing Microsoft Office with Google Docs," says Schadler, adding that Google Apps collaboration features such as Google Sites and Google Talk will likely be used only to enhance Microsoft Office.

"Google Apps will continue to have success with its collaboration and mobile features that augment Office in the enterprise. But I don't see it displacing Microsoft Office in any meaningful way," he says.

One thing is for sure though -- Google is heavily invested in its enterprise cloud play and although it may not have a critical mass behind it yet, it has forced Microsoft to adjust its entire business model.

It's worth asking: Would Microsoft be "all in" for cloud computing if there were no Google?

Shane O'Neill is a senior writer at CIO.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter attwitter.com/CIOonline.

This story, "Microsoft Office vs. Google Apps: The business brawl" was originally published by CIO.

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