By Jeff Gould
Regular readers of this blog will know that, following a self-imposed policy of eating the cloud dogfood I write about, I use both Gmail and Office 365. Now I’ve frequently argued here and elsewhere that enterprise software and advertising are two different things that don’t mix well. That’s why I think that – in the current state of play (which might change) – Office 365, based as it is on Microsoft’s rock-solid server-side Exchange and SharePoint, is a safer and more secure cloud platform than ad-driven Google Apps. Of course, Google could certainly strip out the advertising functionality from Google Apps and make it into an outstanding piece of true enterprise software. They could even make it into something that works in hybrid scenarios that combine cloud and on premises delivery. That would be a big step forward both for their larger customers (such as Federal agencies and Fortune 500 corporations) and for their long-term prospects as an enterprise provider. Maybe one day they will do this. But so far they haven’t.
Still, the question remains: if I believe these things, why do I continue to use Gmail as my primary email service rather than Office 365? The answer is simple: I am not a Fortune 500 corporation, and in the opinion of this individual user Gmail has a better user interface.
How is Gmail better? Let me count some of the ways:
- Gmail loads noticeably faster than the Outlook Web App (OWA) in Office 365;
- It’s much easier to print a message or message thread in Gmail, the commands are right there in a drop-down in the message window, but in O365 I have to pop up the message in a new window, and there doesn’t seem to be an option for printing just one message out of the whole thread;
- I can’t open the O365 calendar in a separate browser tab the way I can with Google Calendar, instead Microsoft forces me to choose between the mail and calendar views;
- I hate the fact that O365 won’t let me stay logged in all day or all night, it’s constantly kicking me out – sure, this is for my own protection, but the user should have some control over this security parameter (maybe I do, but don’t know how to find it?).
None of these quibbles take away from the fact that Office 365 has a richer and more configurable feature set for sophisticated IT departments. But they do suggest that Google is paying more attention to details that matter for the individual sitting in front of the browser. Microsoft’s product development and marketing organization often acts like a big, rigid bureaucratic machine – just check out the confusing profusion of versions and price schemes they inflict on Office 365 customers. Google bets on simplicity in features and pricing, and it is proving in the marketplace that this is enough to win the hearts of a lot of business customers, especially organizations with relatively uncomplicated needs who are especially sensitive to price. I suspect that the big Microsoft machine will eventually get around to fixing some of these issues. But until then I’m sticking with Gmail.