Office in the cloud

Tushar Kanwar        Print Edition: November 2011

Until recently, the lines were rather firmly drawn in the sand when it came to office productivity suites. If you wanted to go the desktop way, you chose Microsoft . Online, it was a toss-up between Google Apps or Zoho Docs. But with the launch of Office 365, Microsoft's suite of online collaboration and office tools, which one should the average individual user or small business owner pick over a copy of Microsoft Office, if at all? We pit them against each other to help you choose. Let's take a walk in the clouds, shall we?

1. User Interface
When choosing an office suite, you're looking at the very least for the widest range of applications with a wide enough feature set to meet your daily needs, not to mention the initial battle each user faces in terms of familiarity. In purely that respect, working on Office 365 will come naturally to regular Office 2010 and 2007 users-the web avatars closely resemble the desktop versions, down to the inclusion of the controversial Ribbon layout. Fonts, templates and formatting styles that are to be found on the desktop versions make their way here as well. In comparison, the look and feel of Google Apps are basic and old school. So while the feature set may be more or less similar, Office 365 often makes it easier to find any particular feature.

2. System Requirements
With Google Apps, your web browser is your desktop, and everything you need to do is done within the browser: email, document creation and collaboration. No additional software needs to be installed, and you can pretty much work from any device that is Internet-connected. On the flip side, Office 365 requires software plug-ins and the .NET framework to be installed. And if you want to use the offline features of Office 365, you're obviously going to need Microsoft Office installed on your desktop/laptop as well. Granted, Office 365 inherently has more scalability built into the design, a boon for rapidly growing businesses, but compared to Google's requirement-a supported web browser-Office 365 setup is slightly more complicated.

3. Document Creation
Microsoft's rich experience in office suites shines through in Office 365, and advanced document formatting is retained better than with Google Apps' while moving an offline document back and forth between a desktop and the cloud. When it comes to spreadsheets, everything we saw (Zoho included) paled when compared to the power and advanced features that Excel gurus need and get from the desktop suite on an everyday basis. However, we would have to give Office 365 the edge here. And for high quality presentations, 365's PowerPoint is really the better option- Google Presentations is functional but lacks the variety of templates and themes that ship with Office 365.

4. Collaboration
Document collaboration, or the ability to simultaneously work on a particular document by various members of a team, is an important office suite attribute. It is handled via Sharepoint for the Office 365 suite. Based on our experience, this can work both ways-while SharePoint does give you the benefit of revision history, document checkin/check-out, integration with
 Where you can get them
Google Apps for Business Trial:http://bit.ly/oFUTIM
Office 365 Trial: http://bit.ly/oAOGvx
Microsoft Office on the desktop, etc, it also adds a layer of complexity in managing all these, especially for the really small businesses. Google Docs offers much of the same, and lets you and others work on the same document at the same time and see who's viewing and who edited last, all without the need of accessing another platform.

5. Pricing
Office 365 has a maze of pricing options. At its basic, $6 a month per user gets you 2 GB data storage on SharePoint Online and 25 GB email mailboxes (with 25MB attachments per email). Google Apps for Business offers two pricing plans: a flexible $5 per user per month and advance payment of $50 a year per user. Both give you 1 GB of storage and 25 GB email inboxes.

6. Chat and Communication
Office 365's presence tools, like Lync, integrate with other Microsoft Office and Office 365 products so you can see if someone is available for a chat or a call, or who is editing your document or viewing the same files that you are. Google offers much of the same features via integration with Google Talk, but the Microsoft applications offer more polish and ease of integration.

Both Office 365 and Google Apps/Docs have a long way to go in matching most features of the desktop Office suite. For basic use, both suffice-though it can be said that Office 365 brings with it a degree of polish and familiarity whereas Google Apps offers affordability and easy accessibility. We've only scratched the surface of these suites here, so if you're interested, you can take both for a trial and decide which works best for your needs.

Courtesy:Gadgets and Gizmos

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