Now that might be because it’s usually pretty foggy here in the Bay Area. Or it might have something to do with the fact that Google has spent years developing the cloud – i.e. the infrastructure for the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product.
While Microsoft had always had the best personal productivity tools due to the richness of their Office suite, when it came to team communication and back office infrastructure, Google held the technological edge.
However, with the release of Office 365, Microsoft now offers a viable challenge to Google in the inter-office communication arena. And after spending some time in the cloud with both tools, this author is convinced that Microsoft is now providing the better service for the following reasons.
When most people think of office communication, they think of e-mail, which means Gmail for Google’s platform and Outlook for Microsoft. However successful office communication includes various other tools, like phone, instant messaging, video conference, document collaboration and screen sharing. Previously this is where Google had an edge, with an intuitive contacts list built right into your inbox and a seamless trigger of tools like Google Talk.
Even so, phone integration was a separate and clunky app in Google Voice. And while Google Docs and Spreadsheets allowed for multi-user editing, they were imprecise and frustrating when compared to Word and Excel. In addition, screen sharing functionality was only possible with third-party plugins.
Microsoft Lync, on the other hand, is a sleek, integrated client that provides a dynamic contacts list similar to what you would see in Gmail –and this list is populated from information already in company control, such as Active Directory and SharePoint.
What is most impressive about Lync is how easy it is to initiate a conversation with someone, say via IM, then promote to a voice or even video call – with a single click.
With seamless VoIP integration, phone calls can be either internal or external in Office 365, all but eliminating the need for expensive handsets. And the Presence integration allows access to Lync services without having to leave the current program.
Lync is so intuitive – I can envision its use quickly spreading throughout an organization.
One element that has been noticeably absent from the Google offering is the ability to do screen sharing. While Microsoft offered this feature, the Live Meeting client was awkward, and required a frustrating installation and configuration.
Live Meeting has since been integrated directly into the Lync technology. Initiating a screen sharing session is as intuitive as an IM conversation, and once again takes only a few clicks – without the need for any additional installations.
The new screen sharing technology also does a wonderful job of transferring control to other users. It even has the ability to load a PowerPoint presentation that can be controlled by each participant independently.
In addition, the integration with Outlook allows for easy scheduling of virtual meetings – even with people outside the network. While Google has a calendar tool, the features are markedly less robust than those in Outlook.
Lync is now packaged within Office 365, providing a holistic approach to employee support technology.
In the past, IT departments were responsible for a variety of complicated and often finicky servers that did not talk to one another very well. There was the Exchange Server, the SharePoint Server, or the PBX box for the phone system – all of which required expertise to operate and time to troubleshoot – not to mention the cost of the hardware itself.
The transition away from internal servers is one of the biggest drivers for companies heading to the cloud, as it ensures more reliability with less effort, as well as a predictable subscription-based model that features the latest technology updates as soon as they’re available.
The problem with converting to Google Apps, if you are among the 94% of offices that use Microsoft Office, is that you are forced to transition away from your current technology in an attempt to gain the advantage of cloud mobility.
With Office 365, organizations see all the benefits from a transition to the cloud without all the disruption in productivity for end users. In fact, Office Web Apps, which provides end users with a browser-based document editing application, now incorporates multi-user editing, which was the last stronghold of Google Apps.
Office 365 moves Exchange, SharePoint, and the Lync Server (which replaces PBX phone systems) to Microsoft’s cloud, while simply integrating with Microsoft Office, rather than abandoning them. In fact, Office 365 is almost exclusively a back office transition.
Winner – Office 365
At the end of the day, Microsoft’s package is probably a better choice for organizations seeking a more user-friendly, professional approach to their communication needs. While Google Apps will certainly be preferred by some – especially those early-adopters that have been using it for a while – the general public, as well as internal IT departments – will appreciate the ease of transitioning to the cloud through using Office 365.
That said, it certainly will be exciting to see where the competition between these two giants will lead in the upcoming years, as well as where and how the market will dictate collaboration.
Alex Mozes is the Director of Training for Learn iT! He manages the Desktop Instruction team and is responsible for all course content and development. His areas of expertise include all levels of Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Outlook, Access, Project, OneNote, Act!, Salesforce, MS Office, Time Management and Business Writing. He’s also reads more SF Giants blogs than anyone else here at Learn iT!, and keeps the rest of us informed of any relevant updates.