Cloud software can revolutionise how and where you work, but what’s the best choice for your office?
There are instant benefits of moving from old desktop versions of Microsoft Office to cloud software. You can still access your email, contacts, appointments and office files from anywhere there's an internet connection – and some cloud applications are available as mobile apps. Large up-front payments for software licences or email servers are replaced by regular subscription fees, and you'll always have the latest versions. Research firm Gartner predicts cloud applications will jump from 8 percent of the global office software market to 33 per cent by 2017.
Here's our comparison of two of the biggest on the market.
Microsoft 365 Business
From A$5.61 a month per userproducts.office.com
Microsoft has long been the leader in business software, thanks to its Office applications and Exchange platform for email servers – and it looks to be replicating that success in the cloud. Online identity security service Okta reported that the use of Office 365 has skyrocketed over the past six months and it could soon be the most popular cloud application on its network.
Office 365’s main benefits include:
- A multi-user email service that can replace an Exchange server, and includes a 50GB inbox for each user
- Cloud storage called OneDrive that lets each user synchronise up to 1TB of files between their computers, mobile devices and the cloud
- Cloud and mobile versions of its traditional Office applications and even the full desktop versions for Windows and MacBut be careful: Microsoft offers three editions of Office 365 Business (plus other personal, academic and enterprise versions) – and only the Premium edition, at A$13.86 a month per user, offers both multi-user email and the Office desktop versions.
The desktop, cloud and mobile versions also have some significant differences. The cloud apps have the fundamental features of the desktop versions, including most of Word’s formatting tools and Excel’s functions. They will look instantly familiar to anyone who has used Office 2007 or later.
But they lack a number of more advanced features. For example, Word Online doesn’t have track changes, mail merge and macro functions. Excel Online is missing formula auditing, duplicate removal and add-ons such as Data Analysis and Solver. PowerPoint Online is closer to the desktop version, but offers fewer animations and transitions. However, additional features are available from the dozens of third-party add-ons available via Apps for Office.
The cloud editions also make collaboration easier. For example, you can share your Word documents or notes in OneNote and work on them together with colleagues. However, if you need to use an advanced feature that’s not in the cloud version, you’ll have to use the desktop application, sync to the cloud using OneDrive, and then share the document.
Office 365 offers other collaboration tools, too, including cloud editions of Lync (video-conferencing for up to 250 people and instant messaging), Yammer (social networking for business) and Team Site (for intranets). Lync and Outlook also make it easy to conference with someone on Skype.
Google Apps for Work
From A$5 a month per usergoogleapps.com
The online suite that started the cloud trend, Google Apps offers similar core benefits to Office 365:
- Gmail for Work multi-user email service with a 30GB per user inbox
- Google Drive storage, with 30GB per user of space to sync files between devices and the cloud (upgrade to unlimited storage for an extra A$5 a month per user)
- Docs, Sheets and Slides applications to compete with Word, Excel and PowerPoint respectivelyBut Google’s applications fall short of Microsoft’s. Docs offers basic formatting, tables and image support, but not a lot in the way of advanced features. Sheets is missing data analysis and a number of formulas, making it suitable for only basic data manipulation, and Slides lacks PowerPoint’s advanced features.
Where Google Apps shines is in its collaboration features. Users can edit a document together in real time, chat while doing so and have access to an unlimited revision history. The suite has apps such as Forms for creating surveys, and Sites for team websites. And there are hundreds of third-party apps to access.
Google Hangouts is similar to Lync, but video calls only support a maximum of 10 people. Google+, however, is a strong collaboration tool for business.
Which is right for you?
If you need lots of cloud storage, want to improve team collaboration, and use only a fraction of Word’s and Excel’s features, then Google Apps with the storage upgrade may be a good option.
If security and privacy are a concern, the likes of Kolab Now or FastMail are worth considering. However, there’s no denying the appeal of Office 365 Business Premium, as it has the desktop version as well as a suite of cloud apps.
What’s the downside?
Before migrating to the cloud, bear in mind there are some potential traps for the unwary:
- There may be compatibility issues if the cloud app can’t import existing data or support an essential software add-in.
- Data is often hosted offshore or subject to an overseas jurisdiction, which may cause security, privacy, compliance and data sovereignty concerns.
- You lose some control over your IT as you’re locked into the cloud provider’s infrastructure.
- Features you’re used to may be missing. The accompanying mobile apps in particular are often very limited.
Why move to cloud-based business email?
Is your business’s email sitting on an ageing server in the back room? By moving to the cloud, you can get rid of that server – and its maintenance costs. Instead your email will be hosted at high-end data centres, and managing the system – such as adding or removing users – is simpler and therefore should be cheaper.
If you’re still using personal email, such as Apple’s iCloud or an email address through your internet service provider, the likes of Office 365 and Google Apps let you use your own domain name, such as [email protected]
Other cloud suites
- Kolab Now Security-focused email and collaboration cloud service that hosts its servers in Switzerland for enhanced privacy.
- Zoho One of the earliest cloud suites that offers a huge range of business apps, including a free email option.
- Bitrix24 Feature-rich email and collaboration suite that’s free for teams of fewer than 13 people.
- Fastmail Local email and calendar cloud service which may be ideal for organisations that require Australia-based servers for compliance reasons.
Read more: Is QuickBooks right for your business?
This article is from the May 2015 issue