Office365: Threat or opportunity?

I'd be very interested to hear what members of this group think of Office365. Over the holiday weekend, FirstTab posted a query about which was better - Office365 or Google Apps?

Because Microsoft is so strongly embedded in the desktop world, does that automatically disqualify it from being taken seriously as a provider of Cloud services? Or is that one of its marketing strengths?

I've long been excited by all the possibilities of Cloud applications and have made extensive use of Google and other online apps. Yet our office situation at AccountingWEB is strongly Windows-based, and there's the obvious hold of Excel on the accountancy profession. I've watched with interest as WindowsLive and Web apps matured in recent years, even if my experiments tended to run up against technical shortcomings.

I haven't really checked out the Office365 iteration yet and wondered if anyone else here has done so. If you've taken more than a cursory look, will the integration between the Cloud and desktop Office applications establish credibility for Microsoft's "Software plus Services" strategy?

Lots of questions, I know, but that's bound to be the case with what could be the biggest challenge to the Cloud newcomers in the accountancy software market.

Comments
Kryton's picture

Looks familiar

Kryton | | Permalink

From a software development company perspective, I see very few people using Google Apps (with the exception of GMail/Calendar). I think this is mostly, as you've mentioned, because people are familiar with Office and it has become the ubiquitous application suite for most businesses. Even though many good alternatives have appeared such as Google Apps, OpenOffice etc, people that need to exchange documents/spreasheets etc between companies still use Office. Of the major Office applications (word proc, spreadsheet, powerpoint), only email is trusted to other applications - mostly cloud based.

I like google apps and OpenOffice - they are cheap and offer easy integration, it is much easier to integrate with google apps at the moment than Microsoft. As a company we integrate with Google to allow us to synchronise our data with a multitude of mobile platforms and sync calender/contacts/email between them easily.

However, for the typical Office Applications (Word, Excel, Powerpoint) moving into the cloud I cannot see anyone else upsetting Microsofts dominance. Exchanging information using the others is just unfamiliar or impractical.

Hopefully, the cloud will become standardised, so that google apps will be able to access data stored on microsoft cloud services and vice versa, then the stark choice of Google vs Microsoft Apps becomes simply a matter of which you need/prefer at the time. In my humble opinion - at that stage people will still be choosing Microsoft Office cos thats what they are familiar with. As Microsoft moves into the cloud - any current advantages of google apps are going to become irrelevant.

Kryton

www.selestial.com

guyletts's picture

Haven't tried Office365, but re. Google Apps vs MS Office

guyletts | | Permalink

As a software development company we've had great success using Google Apps but it doesn't replace Office completely.

Google Apps (the paid one) has been great for internal use, far simpler than my experience of Sharepoint, and the email, calendar and sharing features are simple and extremely effective.  The search facilities are a great time-saver and they work as well as you would expect from Google.  You can share MS Office documents too, with or without converting them to Google format.

I sometimes park the browser and use Outlook as my GMail client because the Google Apps integration is excellent and because it has richer desktop functionality, for example when you want to drag and drop attachments (though GMail is catching up).

However there are some areas where MS Office is still unsurpassed.  As Kryton points out, when exchanging documents with people in other organisations MS Office format is the lingua franca and given its installed base it will remain so for a long time.

For our needs the biggest weaknesses of Google docs compared to MS Office are printing, and all but trivial spreadsheets.  Setting up the page and formatting for print is extremely limited, and the spreadsheet is basic to say the least.  Office is often criticised as being bloatware, but when I want a decent financial model, or to get the printing and formatting just right then I'm grateful that MS Office is so rich and mature in those areas; different league.

We won't be moving to Office365 because I feel everyone would need need an Office client to be effective, and that would be a high cost (presumably that's the MS business plan).  We have the advantage that we had a blank canvas and we're delighted overall with Google Apps, especially for internal collaboration.  However there will always be one copy of MS Office so that we can convert things for external use, build financial spreadsheets and so we can print properly.

Kryton's picture

Office 365 play.

Kryton | | Permalink

I have activated Office 365. Although I have not really got to grips with it yet - I am under the impression that it is very similar to the old Microsoft BPOS, where it is not fully cloud based like Google Apps, but still requires you to have (for Word/Excel docs at least) a normal copy of Office. Similar to using the live drive, you can store your files on the cloud to share in a Sharepoint kinda way. This gives you the full power of Word/Excel, but you have the benefit of being able to use online or offline. I've still much to learn, much of it I am not interested in at the moment, such as intranet development, which has never really taken off in any company I have visited - I'll let you know how I get on.

Kryton

www.selestial.com

Kryton's picture

Office 365 Update

Kryton | | Permalink

Just a quick update. I have been testing Office 365 for a while now and I am quite impressed. It incorporates the usual outlook/exchange features such as reasonable email/contact/calendar funcitonality which is nicely integrated with the browser (I was testing with Firefox 4). The email was much more familiar to me than gmail, and seemed to have some functionality that is annoyingly absent from gmail (such as the ability to view forwarded emails with ease).

Other apps that you get included are Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Note (all the lower functionality web versions). These look and feel like office 2010 apps, including a simpler version of the ribbon. All in all I was impressed by the speed and fluidity of the interface, which is never quite as fast and seemless as a local application, but for my purposes good enough. The editor (in word) is the best that I have used. Although I have not used the google editor for a while, I remember earlier incarnations were full of annoying bugs - but microsoft offer a very polished experience.

Best of all, and this is where the threat to google really lies - you can switch to editing the document with the full Office 2010 apps, so if you need to you can develop complex documents/spreasheets that Google Docs cannot begin to develop.

The documents are saved in a Microsoft Sharepoint like environment (which is not quite as frightening as you might think). I have never been a big fan of Sharepoint but here you can just see it as a web based filing system for your office documents.

Initial impressions are good then. But I have only scratched the surface.

In general - it is worth trying - with its very good included web based apps, good integration with online storage and the ability to use with Office 2010 it is definitely a threat to Google. However the google search is much better. For example, there appears to be no stemming search (e.g. matching "find" with "finding") in outlook, and searching does not do both outlook / calendars and documents simultaneously. Nor does it seem to have any IM abilities - perhaps I have just missed that? Please put me straight if that is the case. Perhaps with Microsoft's purchase of Skype we will see some integration of that into 365?

Regards,

Kryton

www.selestial.com

Sorry if this is a silly question...

chatman | | Permalink

Does this mean you can synchronise your Outlook file with a file on the web? 

Kryton's picture

@chatman

Kryton | | Permalink

Hi Chatman, not quite sure what you mean by outlook files. But you can import your outlook contacts to office 365, and attach files created in 365.  Can you elaborate just what you are trying to do?

Kryton

www.selestial.com

Kryton's picture

update 2

Kryton | | Permalink

Mistake in my earlier update - there is instant messaging on Office 365 called Lync which also includes online meeting and presentation abilities but it does require a download so it is not fully cloud based by the sound of it. This could be a bit of a pain unless there is a download for all clients (e.g. macs)

For Office-o-holics there does seem to be some good import utilities to copy your old office (outlook settings and/or exchange information etc) settings up to the cloud. You can also collect from POP/IMAP servers.

note that the email has "enterprise class" antivirus and antispam. Not sure what this really means but at least you know that your security is all part and parcel as is the backup of the mail. I am not sure what google policy on Apps is but it may be that you have to subscribe to google's Postini service to get this feature.

In general... still impressed. A reservation is that I have not seen any definitive pricing yet. The starting from £4 / user /month sounds good, but what happens when you have 250GB of files and similar secured backup copies?

Checking out OneNote and Lync next time...

Kryton

www.selestial.com

Malcolm Veall's picture

Thanks Kryton

Malcolm Veall | | Permalink

Thanks for your efforts, reading with interest.

@Kryton re Outlook

chatman | | Permalink

Basically I was wondering if I could get access to my Outlook diary, tasks, contact etc via the internet, when I am not at my desk.

John Stokdyk's picture

Yes you can

John Stokdyk | | Permalink

Hi chatman,

The "unified communications" aspect of Office 365 is probably the strongest argument in favour - it'll tie up your PC, web and smartphone email and diary into a single environment. However, there is a blot on the landscape if you're already using Microsoft Exchange for this purpose (eg to synch with BlackBerrys), as you'll need to run two Exchange "instances" for the online and on premise versions of Exchange. "Bseddon" provides a very good explanation of the situation in a comment on my overview article.

cverrier's picture

My immediate reactions...

cverrier | | Permalink

Having sighed up for Office365, I had a number of impressions.

1. It's still a beta, so not sure I'd entrust my data to it fully yet.

2. Microsoft have had issues with their Azure cloud platform surrounding data protection (specifically, your data may be stored in datacentres in the USA, outside the scope of UK/EU data protection legislation). I'd want that clarified before putting client data up there

3. It's not as capable as 'proper' office, so if you've already paid for that, I don't see the attraction. Collaboration possibly is the killer feature here, so if seen as an extension to SharePoint (dont just share your documents in the browser, but also edit them) then it might all start to make sense.

4. I need Office on my laptop when Internet access is not assured. Several of my clients don't allow visitor laptops on their networks, and wifi is pretty scarce at times. I doubt it's going to be great over a 3G connection. First Great Western don't have Wifi on their trains, so that's working on the commute scuppered!

guyletts's picture

Data Protection Concerns - Check for 'Safe Harbor'

guyletts | | Permalink

Charles

I agree with your comments.  You're right to raise the point about data protection requirements because companies in the EU have significant legal obligations and when storing some types of data outside the EU could risk breaching the regulations.

We investigated this thoroughly when setting up our SaaS business because we use US providers for hosting and billing.

There is a scheme to overcome these problems but it's important to check that your supplier subscribes to it.

Details of the scheme are at http://www.export.gov/safeharbor/

I've checked Microsoft's terms and you can find this in their Privacy Policy:

"Microsoft abides by the Safe Harbor framework as set forth by the U.S. Department of Commerce regarding the collection, use, and retention of data from the European Economic Area and Switzerland."

cverrier's picture

Safe harbour

cverrier | | Permalink

Yeah. I know about Safe Harbour, but note sure it delivers.

firstly, it remains unclear if Safe Harbour overrides the Patriot Act - there's no case law yet.

secondly, I did find reports of cases where the FBI raided a Texas data centre (April 2009) and physically took away the servers for the ENTIRE centre because of reports of criminal activity by ONE tenant of the centre. US Law enforcement tends to act in force and without warning when it wants to make sure of getting the evidence it needs.

There are several data centres in Europe, on the other hand, that base themselves in decommissioned military bunkers which makes it impossible to get in with anything short of an air strike. Those centres have reported watching amused as police futilely tried to force their way in and were told to go away, get a better warrant, and ask politely next time.

EU legislation prevents law enforcement agencies from large scale, unfocussed raids. There is no such blanket cover in the US.

Of course, most of the time, most firms have little data that really needs this kind of protection, so I doubt this is really a huge issue for readers of AW. Data Protection isn't the main reason for looking askance at Office365, it's just one aspect to be considered.

Data Protection etc ....

JC | | Permalink

We all talk about DP but in reality when it does go wrong (in this country ot abroad) very little is actually done about it and those resposible for holding the data never seem to get penalised

So what is the point of even bothering about DP if it is yet another 'toothless' wish list?

The only way to drive the point home with data holders is to have a prescriptive set of fines for loss of data - i.e. £10 per item of personal data (first time), £100 per second time, £1,000 per third time etc ....

Surely otherwise the whole thing is a complete waste of time even trying to have a DP law?

When was the last time Sony (100m records), HMRC etc. were called to account rather than simply being embarassed over a loss?

Frankly the Govt needs to sort it out or drop the whole DP concept as a waste of time

Anyway there are many facets to the issue as well as ways to breach security & everyone could learn lessons - see
http://techcrunch.com/2011/05/15/the-chilling-story-of-genius-in-a-land-of-chronic-unemployment/

 

Kryton's picture

follow ups

Kryton | | Permalink

Sorry - been busy recently so here goes some general observations based on some posts I've seen...

1. Multi-Instances of exchange - Microsoft is providing many means to transfer your exchange data to 365 so I am not sure in what circumstances you would need multiple versions of exchange? If you have your own exchange server in your office then if you are a small business then it would make a lot of sense to use a hosted version to cut down on maintenance costs. If you use the blackberry exchange connector (can't remember what it is called offhand) then you are most likely a big business in which case you will not be looking at Office 365 for a few years yet (typically) - certainly not the beta version. 

2. Data Protection:  Microsoft have a global network of datacentres; data that you use is likely to be held in one of Microsoft's European datacentres. If you have made the decision to move to cloud based systems this would be true of google too. Either way, if the government wanted to get their hands on your data - I am sure they will have it before the police arrive at the datacentre! Data will probably be distributed for security to another data centre so seizing a server in seattle is not going to help.

3. Why use 365 if you already have Office: Because you can still use conventional Office - and access/share your files online. If necessary - you do not have to use the Office 365 versions of Word/Excel/Powerpoint at all - but you still get all the other benefits. 

Wow - Microsoft should be paying me for this! I am now going to connect to my Linux machine to restore the harmony.

Kryton

www.selestial.com

Kryton's picture

365 on the Mobile

Kryton | | Permalink

Forgot to mention - Managed to sync 365 with my Android phone. Couldn't work out where the "wizard" was for this because this seems to be some beta versions for US based carriers only(verizon etc) however my Android phone can sync with Exchange so this was not a problem.

Didn't play with this facility too long because I was just testing it worked. I didn't want to mess with my standard mobile sync which is crucial.

Microsoft state that 365 is compatible with all smart phones and Blackberry - (not so smart phone IMHO).

Kryton

www.selestial.com

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