By Laura Haight
Originally published in the Upstate Business Journal on June 7, 2013
If you work collaboratively with other employees, you have probably struggled with the issue of sharing documents.
You may have a shared folder somewhere, but that falls short when you realize that you have several collaborators all with different versions of the same document. Or you might have a personal Google Docs account with a generic login that is shared with everyone. Also a problem - especially when someone leaves your company, or you just find you really need more control over your files.
Not all that long ago, you would have stepped up to an file server on your company network running Windows Server and allowing you to set up users and permissions to secure folders. You would have needed a full time server manager at that point, and probably at least one other desktop staffer to handle training, support, updates, and help desk calls.
Today we’ve got a lot of other choices - none of which involves maintaining your own servers, which is a non-starter for a lot of small businesses. We’re going to talk about two:
- Google Apps for Business offers a suite of productivity applications via online subscription service. Cost is per user. You can control user permissions and access to specific files or folders. Utilize your own business custom domain.
- Office 365 by Microsoft offers online versions of Office - the most widely installed productivity suite of applications in the world. Per user pricing varies, as does the software provided - similar to the differences between buying different levels of Office.
There are a ton of resources you can go to (http://goo.gl/Y9CVQ, http://goo.gl/EWzXy, http://goo.gl/C8szZ, http://goo.gl/oz01h) for analysis in as much depth as you can handle. In many ways all three options provide the similar services for similar pricing. But there are some differences and that’s what we’re going to focus on.
1. We talk a lot in this column about mobile accessibility and if that matters as much to you as it does to me, edge to Google Apps for Business. Office 365 has “mobile viewers” that let you review documents in your Sky Drive, but it does not have a native application to edit those files on iOS or Android devices. (You can edit them on Windows Phone). There are several third party applications (Office HD is one I have used on the iPad) that let you edit documents, but they are often best for quick changes, not wholesale content creation. Much has been written about if or when Microsoft will release a true mobile app. But there is nothing clearly on the horizon. Meanwhile Google Drive has a mobile app for all devices - phones and tablets. You can access all your documents to review or fully edit - from slideshows to spreadsheets.
2. Interoperability. Fancy word. It basically means how well things work with other things. The edge goes to Office 365 on this one with a caveat. If you do things Microsoft’s way, everything works great. Less so, if you want mix and match. For example, trying to use Apple’s Mail client means some functions in Office 365 just won’t work - or at least not with one click. But on the other hand Office 365 goes a long way to connecting other applications or services like Google calendar, Facebook and Twitter to your Outlook.com, MS Messenger and Lync accounts.
3. Ease of use. This totally depends on how experienced a user you are. Office is familiar and most users will adapt fairly easily to the Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access web apps. But it is worth noting that most users utilize only 10 percent of any app - even the most familiar. While Google’s docs are streamlined, they drop off some of the more advanced functions. If you are an Excel guru, a financial consultant who creates what if scenarios and pivot tables, you’ll probably groan at that. But if you are, then these trimmed down online versions are not what you need anyway. My rating: it’s a draw.
4. Add ons. There’s great news here: Whatever doesn’t come native in the service itself is available through a plug-in or add-on. The Google Apps marketplace has robust offerings from CRM to project management. They all plug in to your user management and permission levels. The same is true for Office 365 and it’s online store. Another draw.
The bottom line? There are some pricing differences and some functional differences, but small businesses that used to have very few manageable, cost-effective options now have two that are world-class. That’s a nice conundrum to have.