The great Office 365 v Google debate
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.
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AccountingWEB’s interim Editor in Chief has been with the site since 1999 and returned to the editorial hot seat in March 2020 to lead the hunt for a long-term successor... Send a DM if you're interested! When not tending to the needs of AccountingWEB members and geeking out on their technology habits, he devotes much of his time to his oddball...