Over the years, employees, executives, and freelancers have been required to use a variety of software suites. This comes with the territory when you work in companies constantly straining to stay at the forefront, automating processes, and enhancing collaboration. If you are in a technology-based field (and, really, who isn't these days?), the changes come quickly. Today, it seems it's all about cloud-based services, SaaS environments, collaborative tools and data storage. People find themselves constantly working at maintaining the delicate balance between information security and sharing. There are a lot of tools out there, but which are best for each organization and individual varies.
Microsoft Office 365 is a relatively new entry into the marketplace. For 20 or so years now, businesses have been mostly reliant on Windows and accompanying software. Even Macintosh users have found themselves learning the ins-and-outs of Microsoft Word, Excel, Power Point, and other applications from the same collection. Every two or three years, new versions came out, requiring us to purchase an upgrade.
In an effort to combat the rising cost of software as more and more users needed access and prices continued to rise, breaking into the market was Open Office, a free suite of applications initial put together by the team at Sun Microsystems. Open Office was unique amongst the other offerings in the market, because it was developed not only to provide an alternative to Microsoft Office, but also to be compatible with the leading software. This was a problem even Microsoft Office had with its different application versions. Macintosh users could easily read and edit Windows files, but Windows users couldn't read Macintosh files unless those Mac files were saved in a specific manner. Then, when Office 2007 came out, the files started saving with a new file extensions and additional software had to be installed for users of the older versions to be able to read these new file formats. So, while Open Office tried, there was still some formatting and compatibility issues we'd run into.
In 2001, Microsoft launched Office 365. This was the software publisher's answer to the cries from a global community of users who wanted a number of features. What did Office 365 do that previous version didn't?
· Allowed easier collaboration with a cloud-based file system
· Access to applications through a web interface
· Government and industry compliance certifications
· Cross-platform compatibility
Of course, Microsoft Office 365 is not totally without its drawbacks. Chief amongst these would be the price. There is an annual fee and that fee is based on which level of the suite you're using as well as how many seats you require. It tends to work out to being cheaper than it was when buying separate pieces of software for each machine. You can login from your laptop, tablet, phone, and desktop. If you're using the same login, that's still only one seat. Still, cost can be prohibitive for some organizations, but what options are there.
Open Office is open source and rarely maintained. The team behind open office went on to develop Libre Office, which is also free, but it seems to lack some of the compatibility and reliability that was there years ago. This is most likely due to the growing complexity of the software as well as the lack of support that was once there. However, free options still exist. One of the most popular comes from none other than search engine giant, Google. Google Apps is a web-based software suite designed to replace Microsoft Office. There are a lot of things it does well.
Business owners scoff at the idea of running their office on Google Apps. This is because much of their professional lives they have been touting the axiom: "You get what you pay for." And, Google Apps is free, so it must be horrible, right? Not so fast. If it makes you feel better, there are paid versions of Google Apps where you can set it up for your domain and have control over users on that domain, purchase additional storage space, add more people to a Google Hangout, etc. However, even the free offerings supply more than one might expect.
They use the same 128-bit level encryption that Office 365 does. It's not totally without certifications either. Google Apps is GISMA-certified--that's the U.S. governments standard for securing email communications. Lower bandwidth usage. If you need something like Sharepoint to be running for sharing files and information, you'll need a good, solid, high bandwidth connection. Google Apps does not require the same amount of bandwidth, relying of the infrastructure of a company that is known for reliability and speed of their cloud computing.
Here's the downside. working for a number of clients, each requiring use of different systems. From Dropbox and Google Drive to Office 365 and Google Apps, users could be forced to familiarize themselves with the full gamut of software options. The compatibility between these different application suites is less than ideal. Someone using Office 365 can open Google Docs files and someone using Google Apps can open Office 365 files, but the formatting and full functionality will often be mismatched.
When making the decision on what's right for you and your business between Office 365 and Google Apps, there's a few things that you really have to consider. How much do you want to spend? Do you need to spend that? If so, why? Are you going to be sharing files with people outside of your network? If so, Office 365 might be the better way to go. This is purely based on the commonality of the platform. If everything is internal, however, using Google Apps should be more than enough for your needs.