I’m always interested when companies put their technologists forward as the public face of the company’s expertise in different areas. The idea is that the technologist will wow the readership with deep insights into technology that causes the readers to instantly make contact with the company to request their services/product/help/whatever’s for sale.
The problem with this approach is that the technologist, possibly chosen at random from the ranks of the unwilling writers lurking on the company’s technical staff, might not be up to the task. The views expressed by such an author might be badly researched, off the planet, or simply wrong. It strikes me that the technical leadership inside companies need to do a better job of reviewing what is published on behalf of the company, something that apparently does not happen often.
And so we come to a post on the “Cloud Sherpas” site entitled “Google vs. Microsoft: Which Platform is the Real Change? Part II” by Derik Vanleet, whom we are informed “has a deep technical knowledge of Active Directory, Windows, Exchange, Business Development, Identity Management, Partner Development, Google Apps and Google Enterprise.” It’s a topic that many people will find interesting, especially if written by an expert.
Unfortunately, despite his stated credentials, I fear that Derik misses a number of important points. The central argument that he wants to advance is that Google is easier for users because only two interfaces for each of the four applications (email, file, chat, and social) that he compares against Office 365. By comparison, he calculates that Microsoft makes 26 interfaces available. He therefore concludes that Google is easier to learn. This might well be true. It might also equally be true that the Google apps are less functional. And it might also be true that all of this doesn’t matter because companies make their technology choices for different reasons.
Take email for instance. I guess because we’re taking about user interfaces, the comparison is between Gmail and Outlook rather than Gmail and Exchange. It’s difficult to separate Outlook and Exchange because the two products are so interconnected but it’s valid to do so because Outlook is the way that users think about email. Outlook Web App (not Outlook Web Access – last seen in Exchange 2007 – as shown in the diagram) and mobile clients are also included in the mix.
Although it’s true that Gmail is a simpler and easier to use interface (if all you want to do is send a message), an important fact that is totally overlooked is that there is a very large number of people in the world that have grown up using applications like Outlook to organize their business life. Outlook has been around since 1997 and is a very successful email and PIM. It’s had its difficulties in the past and has been compared to a fat pig of an application, but you can’t argue with success.
The harsh reality of commercial life is that Microsoft has to accommodate its installed base. If they didn’t, they would have zero prospect of success competing against Google for cloud based services. That’s the reason why Microsoft supports Outlook 2007, Outlook 2010 and Outlook 2013 with Office 365. My guess is that Microsoft would love to drop support for Outlook 2007 at this point to reduce their support costs, but that’s impossible when you have such a large installed base. On the other hand, Google started off with a clean slate when they designed Gmail and Google Apps. It’s also true that Google has never supported a traditional desktop client so comparing Outlook and the browser-based Gmail client is a stretch. Although a source of much cost, having a desktop client allows companies to dictate the software that they use and it permits them to install add-on software like CRM modules to meet their business needs. So having fewer user interfaces is a good thing in some respects while being inflexible in others.
Consumers of cloud-based services that use browser interfaces don’t get to vote about updates to user interfaces. Changes are slipstreamed by vendors all the time. You can argue that Google has constantly fiddled with its user interfaces over the years. Gmail remained in beta for a very long time and during that period features appeared and disappeared without warning. Gmail and Apps seem to have settled down now into relative stability but I bet that Google would be much more successful selling Gmail to large enterprises if they had a reasonable integration with Outlook. The existing IMAP or POP integrations are slow and unsatisfactory. Zimbra showed what could be done to connect Outlook to a non-Microsoft Linux-based email server. Google could do the same.
While I’m commenting on email, I note the assertion (in the diagram) that there is no Outlook for Mobile app. Well, Outlook Mobile works pretty well on my Nokia Lumia 1020 and Microsoft released the Outlook Web App for Devices app last July. That app is currently only supported for Apple iOS devices but I expect an announcement around Android support at the Microsoft Exchange Conference next week. To be fair to Dirk, he acknowledges the existence of Outlook Mobile (for the 3.3% who use Windows Phone) and OWA for Devices in the text, so it’s odd that these errors exist in the diagram.
The diagram also lumps Yammer into email, something I cannot understand. I imagine that this is simply a reaction to some Microsoft propaganda (otherwise called enthusiasm) as they seek to find the best use for Yammer. This is just a fact of life as products are integrated with other technology (the same comment could be made about Skype and Lync), but I think that lumping Yammer into email just clouds the comparison for now. Yes, it’s true that Yammer came with an email component and it’s also true that that email component is not well integrated at this point. A more accurate and useful comparison can be made when Yammer is eventually fully integrated with Office 365.
If we take Yammer off the table (only temporarily), then file, chat, and social are shootouts between the Microsoft and Google applications. Social is the hardest area to call. I don’t think Yammer is the answer now, but neither is SharePoint or Google+. IMHO, both companies are struggling to find software that really works in a consistent way for multiple user communities in different industries, countries, and cultures. As Facebook has proven, social networking works outside businesses. The ability of enterprise social networking to help companies achieve better, measurable, and cost-effective business results is still unproven (at least in my mind).
I think the article would be more valuable if it provided a balanced assessment of the state of play between Google and Microsoft (like the comparison published in InfoWorld in January 2014). For instance, Gmail is a good mail server, albeit one that lacks a great client. It’s true that lots of people use it (the first part of the series cites 425 million; what it doesn’t say is how many of these people are – like me – users of the free service. Nor does it factor in the disposable email accounts commonly found in services like Gmail and Hotmail that are set up, used briefly, and then discarded.
A better comparison would be to look at the number of people who pay for Exchange Online (Office 365) and Exchange on-premises versus purchased Gmail. Last November, I calculated that Exchange Online represented about 3.32% of the 301 million seats that Radicati Group reported for Exchange. That was a lowball number and it could be higher. In either case, I hazard a guess that the number of paying customers for Exchange is substantially higher to that for Gmail. I have certainly not paid them a red cent over the years for the privilege of analyzing my email.
Comparing Gmail to Exchange is difficult because Gmail is single platform whereas Exchange allows customers to deploy on-premises, a hybrid solution, or as the pure cloud-based Exchange Online service.
My major focus is email and I am loathe to get into detailed discussions outside that. I think that Google Apps offers some nice functionality that I have used from time to time. However, many prefer the Office equivalents because they have been around for ever, document compatibility is not flawless, and humans find it difficult to change. I imagine that the rumours of Office for iPad will give some additional momentum to the Word-Excel-PowerPoint trio too. Google Drive and OneDrive seem to be much of a muchness. I use OneDrive more because it is better integrated into Windows 8. I don’t use Google Hangouts but do use Lync, but only because I keep on receiving calendar invitations to meetings that use Lync. I do use Google+, but only to publish notices of blog posts that I have written.
In short, you can focus on the number of user interfaces and options if you like but I query the real usefulness of the comparison. At the end of the day, the real question is whether an application solves a business problem in an efficient and effective manner at reasonable cost. As described in this interesting article about why one company moved from Google Apps to Office 365, “it is a battle of the ecosystems” and users often prefer what they know and understand (Office) rather than the great unknown (Google). People are part of that business problem that IT has to solve, so allowing people to continue using software that they have become accustomed to over years is an important factor to consider.
What the article does prove is that Microsoft doesn’t do itself any favors when it goes to market with a confusing collection of different and overlapping products. Yammer versus SharePoint; OneDrive Personal (which isn’t associated with Office 365 at all) and OneDrive Business; Skype and Lync; Yammer Mail and Exchange. You can argue that this smorgasbord of products will be simplified as acquired technology is absorbed into Office. One would hope that this is true. For now it’s confusing and unhelpful, even without comparisons like the one discussed here.
Follow Tony @12Knocksinna