Why I Decided to Switch to and Recommend Office 365 Over Google Apps

In the past I used to be a mostly Google person when it came to communications services such as email. In the collaboration front I wasn’t too fond of Google Docs. It was cool working on the same document with someone else at the same time, but I couldn’t rely much on it when it came to importing the widely used Microsoft formats. My uses were simple too, I just wanted to have emails coming through on my domain, connect to my account on my phone and whatever other devices I picked up along the way. Anything else that came with the package was an added bonus which I would have started using sooner or later, Google Apps served me well at the time. That was until I found out about Microsoft’s Office 365….

Back then I had a free Google Apps account which was basically similar to the consumer version of the Google suite minus the added storage and other quirks paying Google Apps customers got. It had a nice and easy to use dashboard, creating users was a breeze and things just worked. As time went by Google would push new features out, make changes here and there which to me was fine. It’s always nice to be on the cutting edge!

The time came, a few years ago, when I was out looking for a job, and landed a job at a company that was a Microsoft partner. The experience I got there really opened up my eyes to the users that are found in the real world at small, medium and enterprise companies: CEOs, managing directors, customer service, front desk staff, accountants, lawyers and so on. Then came the IT folks. When you’re in IT it’s easy for you to keep up the pace with the changes that go on, it’s part of your job, but what about the others? Everyone else in the company don’t exactly keep themselves up to date with the technologies they use, it is better to keep something the way it is if it isn’t broken. Keep on changing the environment and you’ll have more training that cuts into their productivity and/or adds on to their frustrations while working.

In my job I was also exposed to more and more Microsoft products that are in use by just about any medium to large companies here in Bahrain (note that a company with something like 50 employees is already considered a medium company here!). The technologies: Windows desktops, Office, Windows servers, Exchange email, IIS, SharePoint intranets and a plethora of other Microsoft solutions kept the business running. After all Bill Gates wanted to put a PC in every home and as a result that started spreading into the business world. Honestly it was an eye opener.

We were heavily promoting Office 365, which at the time I never heard of and naively thought it was the new Office that Microsoft was releasing (Microsoft sure like to confuse people…). I then came to realize that it was simply put, almost everything these companies were using but in the cloud, and they just had to pay monthly for the services, for the number of users they had without all the hardware and software licenses. It was around this time that Google had decided to stop giving out free Google Apps account that I decided to give Office 365 a try on my own domain. The fact that I could get all the features of those expensive Microsoft products for a small monthly fee was, to me, like a kid going to Disney to ride on every ride for pocket money. I was about to embark on a journey with Office 365!

Why Did I Switch?

Firstly I didn’t like the way that Google pushed out their innovations to the user. All of the sudden you have a new way to compose emails, then an inbox that splits your mail into different categories, then something here and something there. It honestly felt like they were forcing people to get on with the flow and just deal with it. Change is something that a lot of busy and non-techy users don’t like. With Office 365 changes are subtle, you are given advanced notice (I believe something like 6 months for the serious changes) and the interface remains well organized.

Secondly, Exchange ActiveSync. I was using and enjoying Microsoft products again and I fell in love with Outlook as my email client. The free Google Apps didn’t have EAS anymore, and even if I had a paid account I would need to install a plugin to get it working. POP3/IMAP wasn’t an option because I really wanted to get the full EAS experience with tasks, calendar, contacts and the whole shebang. This was during a time when Office 2013 was still not really out and still preview so I don’t think Google would have supported an unreleased Outlook.

Then there was the price. I decided to start slow with Office 365 and go for an email only package (Exchange Online Plan 1). It was cheap, only $4/month compared to Google’s $5/month. I got 50GB of storage on Office 365 compared to Google’s 30GB. Email at the time was the most important service since that was what I was really using from my free Google Apps account.

I was also starting to get concerned with where my data is stored in the whole cloud world. Not that I have anything to hide! I also get a nice feeling knowing that whenever I access my email I’m connecting to a datacenter in Dublin or Amsterdam rather than accessing email stored in the US, Europe, Asia and wherever Google decides to store my data. According to Google’s FAQ:

Your data is stored in Google’s network of geographically distributed data centers. Google’s computing clusters are designed with resiliency and redundancy in mind, eliminating any single point of failure and minimizing the impact of common equipment failures and environmental risks. Access to data centers is limited to select Google employees and personnel.

It isn’t clear at all where my data is stored on Google’s cloud. Microsoft have the Office 365 Trust Center that covers just about everything you need to know about your data’s privacy and security. With Microsoft where your data is stored depends on the region you selected during sign up. From this page you can download a document that details your data’s location based on your selected region. Since I’m in Bahrain, the EU/Middle East document states:

For most customers located in EMEA, the primary data centers for all Office 365 and Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online services are located in the Netherlands and Ireland.

See how direct and to the point it is compared to Google’s? Not only that, Microsoft takes it further by letting you know that some services may be in other countries (such as the US) if you signed up prior to X date and that additional backups may be in X locations. But you get a full picture with Microsoft where your data is stored.

After using email only with Office 365 since 2012, I decided to get an upgrade for a couple of more Dollars for the Business Essentials package which gives me email + document storage (1TB at first, soon to be unlimited) + audio/video conferencing and more!

Why Do I Recommend Office 365?

Whether you’re just a user that wants to get email running on your personal domain or an enterprise, Microsoft will have an Office 365 plan that is suited for you.

You are free to mix and match the different plans available depending on what you and your users need (do note the limitations, such as max users, on some plans though!). I went from an email only user to using SharePoint and Lync with a few clicks to assign the new license on my account. Everything was seamless during my “upgrade”.

If you’re a company that is already using Microsoft products why force a change on your users if you are considering Google Apps? You can continue to use Outlook as it is with Office 365, have access to the same OWA experience, same SharePoint experience and everything else that your users are already experiencing. If you need to enable SSO it is much simpler with Office 365 since you’re connecting a Microsoft product to another Microsoft product and the documentation is clear and to the point.

Then you have innovation. People think Microsoft are slow to innovate but they have their reasons. They don’t want their loyal customers that have been used to the same interface to see something completely different all of the sudden (coughWindows 8 start screencough). The Office 365 Roadmap page lets you know well ahead of time what changes are coming and when. If you’re the Office 365 admin you can also opt-in to these new features and changes sooner rather than later when it officially becomes a change.

Then there is the most important element for just about everyone but especially business customers. Support. Both Google Apps and Office 365 offer the standard email support, but once in a while there is the time when something is urgent and talking to someone is the only way to fix it. Google Apps seem to have just around 40 countries where they offer a local number to dial. On the other hand Microsoft have local numbers in more than 130 countries (I believe I counted 140)! Not to mention you are most likely to have a Microsoft office or representative in your country that can assist you in escalating issues and recommending partners.

Well that’s my experience with Office 365 and my reasons why you should give Office 365 a try. At the end of the day though it’s up to you and your requirements if you decide to go the Google way.

If you are located in Bahrain and would like to get in touch with any questions regarding Office 365 or would like me to recommend a partner just get in touch by email: elyas (at) kashfi (dot) com or fill in the contact form.


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