2011 was a good year for web-based “software as a service” suites. Although these aren’t new technologies, now more than ever people seem interested in using and taking advantage of the cloud and of the cloud computing document-sharing services. If in January 2011, Google has announced that it will offers its users free data storage of files up to 1GB for Google Docs, on June the same year, Microsoft released to the public its “commercial software plus services” called Microsoft Office 365 Enterprise.
Both services include a suite of desktop apps which can be accessed and delivered over the Internet, and provide users with mobility and immediate access to their documents no matter where they, as long as they have a compatible device and an Internet connection.
Such tools address mainly businesses, but also users who work in a team and for whom collaboration tools are an essential part of their work. In order to have an optimal communication between users, such a communication tool needs to be compatible with all the hardware and software components of all members. So it’s essential to know what devices (PC, smartphones, tablets, etc.) your colleagues use and what software products. The best approach would be that the entire team uses the same web-based software service and avoid working across multiple hardware and software platforms.
In terms of familiarity and wider compatibility, Microsoft Office 365 is the best solution, but if your team prefers online ease of use, Google Docs offers a cheaper alternative. Regarding the user’s experience, Microsoft solution relies on locally installed copies of Office (instead of web apps), while Google moves the entire action into browsers. So let’s see what these web-based office suites have to offer:
• Microsoft Office 365 comes with: email, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, SharePoint, OneNote, Lync and calendars. On the other hand Google Docs provides users with: email, Word processor, Drawing app, Presentations, Online spreadsheet
• In terms of price, Google Docs is free (including Gmail, Google Talk, and other Google products), however for $5 per user, per month ($50 per year) you can get Google Apps which comes with Google Docs + support + extra storage + SLA (service level agreement). Microsoft comes with a more intricate license plan which includes various options, such as Plan E4: for $27 a month you get full Microsoft Office license + enterprise voice capability, etc.
• Docs suite is quite easy to install, and all the information you need is on the Google site. We cannot say the same thing about Office 365, as you need to install a browser plug-in, as well as Microsoft Lync.
• Docs is compatible with most important browser, while Office 365 doesn’t support Google Chrome.
• Both tools have an easy to use UI, however Office 365 offers a familiar touch: you’ll be working with documents (as usual), but these will be saved to Office 365 and not on your local machine.
• When it comes to spreadsheets, Google let’s you right-click in the app and resize hide/unhide rows. Also, Google spreadsheets provide more advanced features, such as: charting, image embedding, pivot tables, etc.
• On the other hand, when it comes to presentations/PowerPoint, Office 365 has a clear advantage: the web app offers the same experience and results as the desktop application
Google Docs has the advantage that’s easy to install, is inexpensive, and is compatible with almost any device with a browser. So no matter if you work from your home PC which has installed Linux, or away, from your Android smartphone, the experience will be the same. However, Docs has a series of limitations as well, such as: flawed integration with local apps, scarce compatibility with PowerPoint files, etc.