Office 365 vs. Google Apps: The InfoWorld review
With Office 365 now available in final form, here's what you need to know to decide if Office 365 or Google Apps (or neither) is right for your organizationFollow @woodyleonhard
Google Apps isn't a colossal, all-encompassing environment like Office 365 or its predecessor Microsoft BPOS (Business Productivity Online Standard Suite). It's intended to be small and light and to hit the high points. Google Apps includes Google Docs for word processing, spreadsheets, slideshows, forms, and data storage; Gmail and Calendar, which you've probably used before; a website-building utility called Sites; a spam filter called Postini; and a video-sharing app. When you pay for Google Apps, you pay for the programs that let you manage an unlimited number of email accounts on your domain, 25GB of space on each mail account, and for phone support of varying quality. All the rest of the Google bundle is free for everybody, all the time.
One feature missing from Google Apps will be a showstopper for many: You can't save locally unless you specifically, manually download data to your PC using Google Sync. So for practical purposes, if you're offline, you're out of luck. According to Google, this will change no later than the end of this summer, by which time Google Apps and the Chrome browser will gain support for the offline storage features of HTML5.
Overall, comparing Office 365 to Google Apps is like comparing the QE II to a sailboat. Both of them will get you over the water, but they do it in completely different ways -- especially on the server side. (To dig deep into the online versions of Exchange 2010, SharePoint 2010, and Lync 2010, see InfoWorld's Office 365 preview; little has changed since then.)
If you revel in the intricacies of Exchange Server 2010, you'll be happy to know that all of that power and complexity carries through to the Microsoft-hosted version, although there's a simplified interface sitting on top. There's also a peace-of-mind factor: Microsoft takes on the care and feeding of Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync -- including maintenance, security, backup, and uptime. For those of you in large organizations, Microsoft will let you split server duties on-premises and in the Microsoft cloud, an inviting prospect if your company has a handful of big centers, with small satellites spread out geographically.
Finally, a word about file compatibility -- which remains a sticking point for both Office Web Apps and Google Docs. Opening an existing Office document in either of these companies' online apps works reasonably well, but it's not unusual for Google Docs to garble heavily formatted Word documents. In general, Microsoft Web Apps do a better job displaying complex Word documents than Google Docs does.
Setup: The quick and the bloated
The first setup hurdle to clear involves email. On the Google side, you have to migrate your current mail server over to Gmail. On the Office 365 side, you need to get Exchange hooked up and get the mail flowing through it, but there's much more on offer.
If you're looking at moving some of your company's functions into the cloud, and you aren't wedded to Exchange Server, spend some time with Google Apps. Taking Google Apps for a test-drive is very easy. Start with the setup wizard. After you verify ownership of your domain name (generally by putting a specific file on your website), it only takes a few clicks to follow the wizard, set up users, and get going (see below).