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The great Office 365 v Google debate

11th Jun 2015
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There can be no more distinctive sign of changing habits in business technology than the debate that continues to rage on AccountingWEB on the relative merits of Micrsoft Office365 versus Google Apps.

Accountants are unlikely to give up Excel without a fight, but the very existence of these discussions indicate that Microsoft’s iron grip on the profession may be slipping.

Many of these discussions have been triggered by new PC purchases and questions from members about the pros and cons of upgrading to Microsoft Office 365.

AccountingWEB blogger Charlie Carne offered a detailed description of the ingredients that are bundled within the Office 365 package: montly subsriptions to the traditional desktop Office products (Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, etc) costing from £3.00 to £7.00 per user per month, with up to 1TB (terabyte) of online storage and access to web versions of the same files on up to five different devices. The premium Office 365 subscription also provides a hosted Microsoft Exchange email server along with the productivity programs for £7.80 a month.

For Carne, Word and Excel are indispensable. “I’m a big fan of Office 365. Most of us are used to Word and Excel, so the Google versions of those are a bit of a let-down in comparison,” he said. At the current subscription rates, he added, “I don't see how cost is a major issue.”

According to other AccountingWEB members, however, Office365’s main weakness is Microsoft Exchange.

“Hosted Exchange isn't the best or most intuitive (forced archiving and deletion options with silly names, for example - forced decluttering coming to you this month),” wrote KJevans, “and certainly not the cheapest. Rackspace mail is generally cheaper and just as good.”

Mumpin concurred, “The Exchange part really took some setting up. Assuming you have a website and a domain you need to go onto your hoster’s site and enter great strings of code.

“Should’ve stuck with Office 2003 and given Gmail for business a go.”

But switching to a subscription model and supporting users across a range of web-connected devices has opened Microsoft up to competition from Google’s Application suite, which runs entirely in the cloud.

AccountingWEB has lived through this transition during the past year. While Microsoft Office is still installed on most PCs, the default environment for creating, sending and storing files are Google apps including Docs, Sheets, Gmail and Drive. Surprisingly for such a Word- and Excel-dependant crew we survived to tell the tale - just.

In common with many organisations, cost was our primary driver. Running a Microsoft Exchange email server to support the entire 100+ network of our parent company Sift was expensive. With the Office productivity package added to the mix, our tech support team estimates the overall savings ran to £10,000 a year.

“For us to continue with Exchange in-house we would have needed new servers, vast storage for live, backup and archive data. The licenses from Microsoft were not cheap either,” explains our tech guy James Comley.

​​But reducing risk was a bigger factor in the Google decision, he added: “We no longer have the concern of maintaining an email server. “This extends to ensuring the server was up 100% of the time, ensuring security updates are applied, applying feature updates and backing up and archiving hundreds of gigabytes of data.

Our Exchange server offered only 1GB of mailbox storage per user. Google offers 30GB.

If decades of use have habituated you to Microsoft keyboard shortcuts, macros, styles, PivotTables and other data management routines, switching to the frill-free Google Spreadsheets and Docs environment is a wrench. Even though they are growing in sophistication, the Google tools still lag a long way behind Microsoft’s. But Google’s tools are growing in sophistication and are supported by a library of add-ons that are filling some of the gaps.

On the other side of the equation, Google Apps support genuine real-time collaboration in common documents. This can occasionally mess things up if you want to revert to a previous variant, but the relief of not having to name and manage multiple versions is significant.

What doesn’t work is trying to move between the two environments. Probably deliberately document formats and spreadsheet formulae do not travel well. You can store Excel, Word and PowerPoint files on Google Drive, but you’re better advised to build new versions from scratch in the alternative environment than trying to copy the old ones across.

Switching to Google Apps can deliver benefits for a cloud-based organisation, but they need to be of a certain size and type to justify the costs. Rather than trusting Google Business to look after everything, you’ll still need to have backup services in place, which will bulk up your monthly cost.

“A company below five staff would really need to think hard about the value/return investing in Google Business would deliver,” said Comley. Based on his experiences for bigger companies, he added, “I would certainly recommend Google Business.”

This article is just one more episode in what looks to be an interminable debate. Like everything else, the cloud revolution is changing the business software landscape. But with personal habits and preferences retaining a powerful hold on accountants, it may be some time before either side will be able to claim outright victory. 

Replies (16)

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By Ketchup
11th Jun 2015 12:23

Google Mail savings

I understand that when a major UK news and media group switched to Google & GMail a few years ago their annual savings were in the £££ millions


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By expertpensions
11th Jun 2015 12:56


I can assure anyone with any doubts, no matter what size your business is (and mine is a small micro business), google apps is the future.

Of course, it's painful at the outset. BUT, it is a no-brainer; google is the future and it will be the future.

No doubts there are plenty unconvinced.

Look out at your car park - see anything you recognise from 10 years ago, which drives better or is safer than you have just now?


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By MatthewSteeples
11th Jun 2015 13:10

Happy with Office365

Done this quite a few times, but having to "go onto your hoster’s site and enter great strings of code" isn't a symptom of hosted exchange or Office 365, it's a symptom of changing any email provider. Sticking with Gmail for Business would have involved the same changes.

We've been on Office 365 for a couple of years now (Google Apps before that), and we find Exchange to be one of its greatest strengths. We can share mailboxes with different levels of security (including send emails 'from' people while they're on holiday) and the "forced archiving and deletion options" (which are disabled by default) don't seem to bother us that much. We also find Clutter a useful feature, although I'd agree that it probably doesn't want to be on by default.

Office 365 also supports the same genuine real-time collaboration (if you want to play then you can use the following link) and it's even coming to the desktop apps before the end of the year.

I think (like accounting software) there isn't a one size fits all approach, and professional advice is best sought before implementing either, but they are compatible enough that you can move from one to the other, as we did. Thanks for taking the time to write about your experiences.

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By David Gordon FCCA
11th Jun 2015 13:04

office 365


 We have a server and four workstations-

 When XP died we bought new pcs and moved to Windows 7 and 365.

 We keep the XP pcs on, as two screens on desk proves useful when searching or looking up client files, and other routine stuff.

 So, far the Master of the Universe has been kind to us, we have not had any major problems apart from getting used to new formats.

 Compared to our I Tax, Co.Hse, C Tax, and accounting  software, "Saint" Bill Gates has been kind to us over the last twenty years or so, 8/10 points. If it works do not try to fix it.

 I would be ecstatic if all our software worked to the same reliabilty as a carefully maintained Ford Transit.

 Only God is perfect- a fact that software sellers conveniently often forget to mention. They also forget to mention that similar to motor cars, all software includes planned obsolescence.

 I quickly and painfully learned not to be the guy in the front of the queue for New wizz bang software.



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Replying to Ben McLintock:
By chatman
22nd Jun 2015 20:27

Which god?

David Gordon FCCA wrote:
Only God is perfect

Which of the hundreds of available gods are we talking about here?

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By laronde123
11th Jun 2015 14:28

We have adopted Google apps alongside our online PM system CentreCRM.

We have also created Google sheets standard working papers. In addition lots of our clients use Google sheets cashbook we developed. After 12 months we are finding massive benefits. No more uploading , downloading. 

As a MS Excel guru and teacher I can say that whilst Google sheets can not match the desktop version of excel the online version in my opinion is equal if not better in particular as you can run Scripts (Macros). 



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By Charlie Carne
11th Jun 2015 14:38

Slight correction


The premium Office 365 subscription also provides a hosted Microsoft Exchange email server along with the productivity programs for £7.80 a month

Whilst that is correct, it may have given the impression that Exchange is only available as an add-on to the premium desktop software licence. In fact, Exchange is available in the cheapest Office 365 version at £3.10 pm (which also includes most of the other services, such as 1TB data storage, online versions of Word & Excel, etc., but excludes the desktop software installation license for those who are happy sticking with their existing version of Word and Excel).

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By nogammonsinanundoubledgame
11th Jun 2015 14:39

Macros ...

"As a MS Excel guru and teacher I can say that whilst Google sheets can not match the desktop version of excel the online version in my opinion is equal if not better in particular as you can run Scripts (Macros)."

As a MS Excel guru and teacher I should hope that you are aware that the desktop version of excel can run macros. What am I missing?

With kind regards

Clint Westwood

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By laronde123
11th Jun 2015 15:09



Clint I always love it when someone tries to be smart . Obviously I am talking about the cloud versions only.

Of course the desktop versions of Excel run Macros but that is no good if you don't have access to desktop version. 

It makes no sense to work on desktop versions. With good internet speed broadly available to all ,working in the cloud will become the norm.

Why keep having to buy the latest version of the ever changing windows operating system.Of course excel is still a very good tool if you need huge volumes of data but Google recent sheets upgrade has now made Google a viable alternative for many.

I guess some just do not like change.









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By AndrewV12
12th Jun 2015 08:50

Excel is great and cheap these days

Excel is fantastic, I doubt if anything better is out there, Word is over complicated and as for power point.... well who uses that... not me.


Google will have to win hearts and minds to over take office, also office is very cheap these days, it used to be very expensive, maybe Excel felt it had to react to Google apps and hence the price cut,if this is the case i like google Apps but i have never used it. 

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By Francois Badenhorst
12th Jun 2015 09:39

Libre office?

An option from beyond the Office365/Google dichotomy is LibreOffice. It’s a downloadable, free solution and according to pwrights, “It can be set to be compatible with Microsoft Office”. Another user Scalloway did offer one caveat, though: “It is theoretically compatible with MS Office (Excel, Word etc) but I find formatting doesn't always transfer properly between the two.”

PaulWakefield1 was altogether unconvinced by LibreOffice, returning once again to the issue of Excel compatibility. “I find that the compatibility with Excel is limited to a restricted set of features only. Not a problem if you are not exchanging files with Excel users but, if you have to load other than the simplest files from Excel on a regular basis, I think you will spend a lot of time trying to get them to work and will probably rapidly lose the benefit of LibreOffice being free.”

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By Hugh Scantlebury
12th Jun 2015 11:48

Google for everything EXCEPT Excel

At Aqilla we have been using Google Apps for Business for over four years and it's brilliant. The collaboration tools are superb and easy to use.

However for the hardcore accountants amongst us we still have single licences of Excel 2013 installed.

This is because (and the only reason to be honest) Google Sheets cannot (as neither the Mac version of Excel as it happens) work as a simple web services client.  Excel can send data securely over an https  connection via MSXML.DLL.

Whilst Google Sheets have =importdata() or =importxml() functions it's just not enough when you want to interact with a remote data source via an API.


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By David Gordon FCCA
12th Jun 2015 13:53

As laronde123 said


 "With good internet speeds available to all".-

 As the Bard of Avon said "Aye, there's the rub..."

 Good internet speeds are most certainly not available to all.

 In my London dormitory town when we have a proper rainstorm - pop goes the internet.

 My secretary has to stand outside her flat in order to use her mobile.

 I have clients in the West Midlands. Connections are atrocious.

 The "Cloud" is an excellent back up and working tool, but rely on it? No way!






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Replying to frankfx:
By Hugh Scantlebury
12th Jun 2015 18:59

Where on earth do you live David?! Somebody call OFCOM!!!

Even out in deepest darkest Cornwall we now have the loveliness of 150 meg FTTP (Fibre To The Property) and similar FTTC (Fibre To The Cabinet) courtesy of smashing EU grants in support of the Superfast Cornwall initiative. Decent web connection now the norm for most of if not quite the whole of the Duchy.

"Proper job" as they say out West....

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By laronde123
12th Jun 2015 15:09

Of course not reliable internet then you stuck with excel desktop.

We have been using online cloud based solutions for over a year and no problems.


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By laronde123
23rd Jun 2015 08:41

I think there are lots of dinosaurs who will one day be extinct

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