Not since the early '90s, when IBM fought its last stand against Microsoft for the desktop, have we seen anything like the epic battle between Microsoft and Google for the cloud.
On Friday we witnessed this conflict in microcosm at InfoWorld's offices. Microsoft representatives stopped by in the morning to demo an early beta version of Office 365, the company's bundle of Office Professional Plus 2010 with cloud-based versions of Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync. That afternoon, Google representatives popped in to demo Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office, a free add-on that allows existing versions of Microsoft Office (2003 and up) to sync Office documents with Google Docs and engage in simultaneous group editing.
[ Also on InfoWorld: Check out J. Peter Bruzzese's rundown of BPOS services.| Read Neil McAllister's review of Microsoft Office Web Apps. | See Frank Ohlhorst's "Top 10 Office 2010 features for business." ]
There's no equivalency here: Office 365 is a huge endeavor that is both the future of Microsoft Office and a major 2010 revision of Microsoft's BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite). The enterprise edition comes with a 99.9 percent uptime SLA, email archiving for compliance, and IT-level phone support. Google Cloud Connect is a simple little 3MB utility. But both products build a bridge from the Microsoft Office desktop to the cloud, and I find it hard to believe that the timing of Google's last-minute appointment to demo Cloud Connect was coincidental. It's war, all right.
The Microsoft Office 365 juggernaut
Office 365 leads Microsoft's assault on the cloud. It marks the first time Microsoft has bundled a desktop version of Office with a BPOS-load of cloud services in a single subscription -- at a hefty $24 per user per month.
The small-business edition, which offers the cloud services alone and integrates with both Office 2007 and 2010, costs just $6 per user per month without the phone support or archiving. If you like, for $16 per month you can opt for the E2 enterprise version and use Office Web Apps without Office being installed on your system at all.
For most Office 365 customers, the big deal will be offloading Exchange to Microsoft's servers, although, of course, you still need to administer Exchange in the cloud. But as you wade into Office 365, the most exciting benefit is that both SharePoint and Lync are ready and available. I'm not sure what percentage of Office customers use SharePoint, but I know many fewer use Lync (known as Office Communications Server in its previous incarnations). With both SharePoint and Lync running, the collaborative capabilities -- real-time document co-editing, voice, chat, video, and so on -- are well integrated and pretty stunning.
Microsoft's mobile missteps
As a cloud offering, one problem with Office 365 so far (it's an early beta, so we can't say for sure) is that it's pretty much an all-Microsoft affair. Yes, Office Web Apps runs well on all the major desktop browsers, and yes, the enterprise version of Office 365 syncs with BlackBerry Enterprise Server. But iPhone and iPad? Our preliminary tests indicate that you're not going to get a lot of work done on iOS devices with Office Web Apps or SharePoint -- same deal with Android. Apparently, the first marketing bullet for Office 365, which is "access to e-mail, documents, contacts and calendars on nearly any device," holds true only if "access" means viewing rather than editing. InfoWorld's Galen Gruman will provide more on these mobile compatibility issues later this week.