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Office 365 vs. Google Apps vs. Apathy and Fear

So, Microsoft threw down the gauntlet this week, challenging Google Apps for real this time with Office 365, an online, hosted version of the omnipresent Office productivity suite. What will follow will be a battle royale for...what, exactly?

That's the real question here. Before we ask who will win the hosted-applications war between Microsoft and Google, we have to determine exactly what the spoils will be for the victor. We're not convinced at this point that hosted applications have won enough people or businesses over for the battle between 365 and Apps to be for much more than bragging rights at this point.

That will change at some point, of course -- probably. We're big believers in the cloud here at RCPU and have been for a long time. We can see the end of client software on the horizon. We can see everything running on a mobile device of some sort (something between a tablet and a phone) in either app form or in a browser. And we can see a day when workers will use that technology for almost everything they do and businesses will run on it.

But we're not there yet. Sure, lots of people have smartphones and tablets now that they use for work, and some folks use those devices almost exclusively. It's certainly possible to do most of what an office (small "o") worker does using just a portable device and maybe a wireless keyboard. It's very possible to do everything in the cloud. And both Microsoft and Google have been trumpeting big cloud wins of late.

Go into most offices, though, and you'll still see laptop and even desktop computers, most of them running some version of Windows and Office. That's how most folks who work with computers every day get their work done, using a PC of some sort and software running on the client. OK, so maybe that model isn't growing the way it once did (why would it?), but it's still dominant.

Besides that, a lot of partners and IT professionals still don't trust the cloud. Not really. Not for running their or their clients' businesses. (A lot of partners are still wondering how they're going to make money off of it, too.) It's not hard to see why. High-profile outages are still pretty common among most of the big vendors, and despite the promise of cost savings, questions remain about how secure and private data is resting in the cloud rather than sitting on a server in some company's own building.

Plus, is anybody ready to ditch versions of Office that run on PCs? Really ditch them and do everything in the cloud, where network lag time and other only marginally controllable factors can screw up everything from data archiving to sending a simple e-mail? Are we really ready to surrender everything we do every day to the whims of the Internet? Even as a big believer in the cloud, your editor is typing this right now in old-school Microsoft Word and will send it via e-mail to RCPU editors in California. That's still the way a lot of -- probably most -- work gets done in offices around the world.  

Right now, it's not Microsoft or Google that needs to win the battle, it's the cloud itself. That means that both vendors need to provide useful, trustworthy services that offer not only cost savings but also functionality that's realistic for everyday office use. They need to keep those services up and running and avoid the kinds of outages that do nothing but fuel skeptics' arguments and give the naysayers a legitimate chance to spread their anti-cloud rhetoric. The number one thing the cloud has to fear is fear itself.  

And if Microsoft and Google can manage to pull all that off (which they haven't yet, really), they'll still need to take on the "we've-always-done-it-this-way" syndrome that permeates corporate America and much of the corporate world. Step outside the technology industry and look at how many companies still run not just Windows XP but Windows 2000. They're out there. (Many of you partners know what we mean here.) If this cloud model is going to take off in a serious way, at least some of those Luddites are going to have to convert from on-premises software to the cloud. Early adopters alone won't keep the model afloat forever.

Then again, Microsoft makes so much money off of old-school Office that it might not be in too much of a rush to kill the on-premises model. That's another post for another time, though. For now, as they fight with each other for cloud supremacy, Google and Microsoft need to make sure they're winning the war for the cloud and not just taking shots at each other in a battle with low stakes and few rewards.

Have you considered moving to Office 365 or Google Apps? Why or why not? Send your thoughts to lpender@rcpmag.com or leave a comment below.

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Posted by Lee Pender on June 28, 2011 at 11:57 AM


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