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Review: Microsoft Office 365 vs. Google Apps

Woody Leonhard | Jan. 9, 2014
Web browser or Office suite? Microsoft's and Google's office productivity and collaboration clouds pit rich and complex against simple and lean

Thanks to vast improvements to the Office suite's Click to Run (C2R) capabilities, it's faster and simpler to set up Office programs on licensed machines, to manage the programs (for example, add or remove machines from the authorized list), and to keep on top of patches (C2R apps check every time they're initiated and install patches as available). To date, Microsoft's track record on C2R patches has been much, much better than that for the standard Windows Update/WSUS route.

Don't let the term "Click to Run" confuse you. Office 365 installed by C2R puts the programs on your local drive. You don't need to be connected to the Internet in order to run all of your Office programs — the streaming download typically occurs only once. You can, however, remove a machine from your authorized list, and that machine will no longer be able to run the Office 365 programs.

The Office apps are now bound together by the user's Microsoft account, so recent document lists, custom dictionaries, and some settings travel from machine to machine — in some cases, to the Office Web Apps as well. Save a Word doc on SkyDrive using your laptop, then pick it up with the Word Web App or a copy of Word on another machine; when you return later, Word is smart enough to offer to go back to the point where it was last edited.

New "Wave 15" (2013) versions of Exchange Server, Lync Server, and SharePoint bring dozens of worthwhile new features. Top on the list might be the streamlined (and Web-based) Exchange Administration Center, which has taken on new responsibility for managing public folders. The Outlook Web App picked up the ability to store messages locally and have everything updated when the computer reconnects to the Internet. The new Lync Web App lets users without the Lync client join and participate in meetings using just a browser. These are only a few of the most important improvements. Rest assured that all of the advances you see in on-premises server capabilities are being mirrored in Office 365.

Office 365 Enterprise now offers tools for splitting out on-premises servers and data stores from analogous services in the cloud. In most cases, on-premises and cloud settings — including user management — take place in one, integrated interface. That should make it much easier to migrate to the cloud.

Of course Office 365 now gets along nicely with Windows 8.1, with tiles put where you'd expect. It enhances (or at least enables) touch and pen input. There's also much deeper integration with SkyDrive Pro, a standard part of all of the business versions of Office 365. (SkyDrive Pro isn't really related to SkyDrive, but an expansion of a SharePoint feature formerly called MySites.)


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