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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

Not so long ago, a major selling point for Microsoft solutions was the ubiquity of Office. Experience with Microsoft Office was expected by employers, and by the same token, employees expected to work with Word, Excel, Outlook, or PowerPoint in a new job. That's changing. The number of potential employees that actively use Gmail, for example, has never been greater. Some potential employees may find not having to use Microsoft Office applications a distinct employment incentive.

Privacy differences
One important consideration, when comparing Microsoft and Google products, has nothing to do with price or features. It has everything to do with privacy. Given recent revelations about our government snooping on anything that moves, the questions about corporate privacy and how companies such as Microsoft and Google will use your data have only become more pointed.

Google's privacy policy makes no bones about it: "We use the information we collect from all of our services to provide, maintain, protect and improve them, to develop new ones, and to protect Google and our users. We also use this information to offer you tailored content — like giving you more relevant search results and ads." Yes, that means Google scans your mail and may even look at the contents of your files for information that's used to serve up ads. There's a more technical look in the Google Apps Security Whitepaper.

Microsoft's privacy policy takes a very different tack: "We use your data for just what you pay us for: to maintain and provide Office 365 and Dynamics CRM Online services. We make it our policy to not use your data for other purposes. While some data may be stored or processed on systems used for both consumer and business services, our business services are designed and operated separately from Microsoft's consumer services. Microsoft does not scan emails or documents for advertising purposes." While obviously Microsoft scans the contents of messages (and possibly files stored in SkyDrive) to protect against malware, we have Microsoft's word that it doesn't use the results of those scans for advertising.

Both Microsoft and Google very explicitly explain that they may serve up your data in response to a properly filed subpoena. Both claim they will try to contact you if the situation arises, although they both are barred from notifying you should the subpoena involve certain governmental agencies.

Office 365 vs. Google Apps: Setup
The hardest part of setting up a free trial for Office 365 lies in choosing the right plan to begin with. If your company is on the "S" side of the SMB fence, the Office 365 Small Business Premium has a free 30-day trial for up to 10 users (actually, 10 email addresses). The plan taps out at 25 users.


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