Thursday 7 July 2011

My take on Google Apps Vs Office 365

I am writing this entry as an IT pro who has a few clients on Google Apps now for several months, and has recently switched one client to Office 365. Rather than make this even longer than it is going to be, I will be writing about the partner experience in a separate post.

I believe Google Docs is a nice tool - if you are creating a basic document in it and want to share it with other Google Docs users, or even download and run inside Office, it works well... but... I have had (many) issues with existing complex documents that I have uploaded to it.

On the other side, I have used Microsoft Office Online and believe it is perfect. Documents are preserved entirely.

The above being said, Google Docs offers a few nice features such as surveys/questionnaires that are a really nice touch and I have used several times. I have clocked a lot less time on Office Online, but, from my limited time, I would say that Google also has better sharing/multi user capabilities. I think that Microsoft make up for this with SharePoint, but cannot personally comment.

However, taking in to account the above, the majority of my clients are happy with the way they work - they only want hosted email and the only time they need to write documents is in their Office where they use Dropbox, VPN or network shares to sync things. Whilst Dropbox can get expensive for very large projects/teams, all of these solutions work very well for my clients.

Now, I have never really had a problem with Gmail... until one of my clients did, which cause me to spend many many hours researching it and trying to find a solution.

If you or your company are not big emailers, or are happy with the Gmail web interface, it is a perfectly adequate solution. That being said, IMAP support is just error filled, rubbish, flawed, and annoying.

One of my clients is a recruitment company who pretty much live in Emails - their business depends on it. In addition, they use software for their business that includes an Outlook Add-in and despite following guide upon guide online (and writing one myself), there are just frequent problems.

I do believe a few of these issues I have seen are due to Outlook's IMAP handling, but, some of the issues were also seen during my testing in Thunderbird.

After finally managing to get help from someone in Google, the only solution was to try to go back to pop3, which for sync issues to phone is just a no-go area.

So... I wanted to find an alternate solution and since Office 365 has just launched, I decided to switch to it - and email now works perfectly.

Personally as an administrator and someone who is responsible for support, I have a love/hate relationship with Microsoft Exchange. Exchange is a behemoth of a solution! It is quite expensive, requires a lot of planning, seems to touch everything... but... works very well indeed (once up!). I truly believe that there is nothing better for a business than Exchange with Outlook as a client.. One of my favourite words, but the only word that can really describe Exchange and Outlook is "Flawless".

The downside though is whilst the base functionality is there, it really lacks a lot of features that makes Exchange truly great. If you want some of the advanced features, you really need to learn PowerShell. An example is mailbox delegation which requires manually going in to a persons Outlook and setting (or using a PowerShell script). Annoyingly, this is a very easy task to perform in Google Apps.

When Gmail launched, it was sort of revolutionary - Very good anti spam, enormous storage space and labels instead of folders, but a few years on and I would say anti spam in Office 365 is just as good, Storage in Gmail is the same as Office 365 and... Labels are a fad... this was one of the big problems with IMAP Gmail access - deleting emails only removed the label. There are options, but without a central way to set it - it was annoyingly difficult.

Whilst I can not give a full account of Office 365 Vs Google Apps, I can give a fair review of Gmail Vs Hosted Exchange (which I believe is the main component people will be using).

With Microsoft offering the Kiosk worker plan and Hosted Exchange on its own, I think this is the way forward and I will no longer be offering any Google Apps services to my clients for the foreseeable future.

I feel that Microsoft have a truly superior product that simply lacks a good enough control interface and real world scenario/support - I can only hope they improve this soon. Whilst I am writing this in brief here, this is actually a major point, but will cover it in my next part which is about Microsoft abandoning partners on Office 365.