By Doug Miller
Jeff Gould – the co-founder of this site – just posted his piece on why he likes Google Gmail and related apps over Microsoft’s Office 365. Like Jeff, I also use both Google Apps with Gmail and Office 365. I have paid subscriptions for both with a number of users on each system and use them as both an administrator for each domain and an end user.
While Jeff likes Gmail over Office 365, I am more of a fan of Office 365. We each use email and calendaring differently and we each have different tastes for user interfaces and essential features so it is not unusual to have different preferences. For me Office 365 is a better email, contact and calendaring system.
I should say that there are a lot of things I like about both systems. Both these solutions have the following positive features:
- The ability to use a variety of interfaces including Outlook, browsers and mobile devices including Android, Windows Phone, iPhone and iPad. I love it when products from one vendor work well on a competing vendor’s platform. I am always blown away by how well these two systems work on all my devices.
- Decent online tools for administering users and various features.
- Good spam filtering.
- Ability to host multiple domains with one subscription account.
- Both have been very reliable for my users.
If I look at my experience with each system, there are pros and cons with each. First, here’s what I like about Office 365:
- The Office 365 system has a rich user interface that works in both Outlook and on the web. These look and work in a similar way so I am totally comfortable using either interface. Office 365 also works well with my Windows Phone, Android devices and my iPad.
- Calendaring is more robust in my opinion.
- I use Lync most days and really like the group conference calling features and the ability to see presence information for other users.
- There is no cross-integration with consumer products. It is all pro. I like that.
- I am a committed Outlook user and in the end Office 365 just works better. All the features are there. With all of the backend Exchange functionality, it feels like a real enterprise solution – because it is a real enterprise solution.
What I not as keen about with Office 365:
- The setup is a bit convoluted. It is a powerful system and you need to take the time to figure out what you need to do.
- Not all of the features are available on mobile devices e.g. Tasks, Notes.
- Setup on Android can be challenging in some cases as you may need to know your server name.
- Office 365 is more expensive for a small business than Google Apps. I mainly use the Outlook-oriented technologies and rarely use SharePoint or the online Office tools so I sometimes feel like I am paying for functionality that I never use. I could make the same argument for Google Apps though. I never use Google Docs, Calendar or Contacts (see below) yet it is part of my subscription.
What I like about Google Apps Gmail:
- The $50 per year per user makes it slightly more affordable for small businesses. If you are really small then there is no charge.
What I don’t like about Gmail:
- I don’t like the way Gmail threads messages into one long message in the online tool.
- I don’t like the way Gmail uses labels instead of folders. I like Folders and while there are ways to view labeled messages in Folder in Outlook, not all of the functionality I need for Mail Rules works with these.
- It really creeped me out when I signed up for Google+ (a consumer service that is outside of my Google Apps agreement) and I suddenly get messages in Google+ that it is going through my Gmail emails looking for potential contacts. Consumer social networking product should not be reaching into my business email system – period. My Gmail system now has all this Google+ stuff integrated into it. There doesn’t seem to be any way to use Google+ and keep it separate from my business email system.
- I can’t use the Google Apps Sync and an Exchange-based account at the same time in Outlook. I thought this was a Microsoft issue but after chasing this for several weeks, I finally found out that it is a Google issue. This means that I need to use IMAP to connect to Gmail from Outlook. While this works ok for email, I am not able to connect with my Google Calendar or Contacts so I lose a huge reason for using Google Apps. For this reason, I no longer use Google Calendar or Contacts and have standardized on only using Office 365 as my centralized Calendar and Contact database. This is really too bad as the Google Apps Sync feature actually works well with Outlook. It is a shame that it does not work if you use Exchange-based email as well.
I initially started out using Google Apps a couple of years ago before Office 365 was available. I did not have major issues with Google Apps but when Office 365 was announced in beta I signed up and after a couple of weeks of testing, I moved two of my domains over to Office 365. A lot of people compare the two and think of them as business versions of consumer email products. This is not true. I think it is really important to realize that Google Apps is really just a repackaging of the standard Google consumer offerings such as Gmail. Yes, you can turn off things like ads but to me it is closer to Hotmail in functionality and where it is coming from – the ad-oriented consumer world. Office 365 on the other hand is pure business. It uses real Exchange, SharePoint, Lync and other enterprise technologies on the back end. It is not a repackaging of a consumer product. It is a repackaging of a collection of enterprise products. I think this is a really important point for real businesses that are looking for a cloud-based system.
Since both systems support hosting multiple domains I could consolidate all my email needs into one system or the other. I like to use both systems to keep up on the technologies although since I only really use the Gmail part of Google Apps, because of the issues mentioned above, it is a bit of a waste of money to keep up the subscriptions in both.
If I had to, I could work with either system. However, if I had to make a choice having used both systems for over a year, I would definitely choose Office 365 over Google Apps.