The battle for cloud based email and productivity between Microsoft and Google has really heated up recently. In October, Microsoft announced the next iteration of its Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) which is being rebranded as Office 365. This will be a significant release as the online service will be based on Microsoft’s latest versions of Exchange, SharePoint and Lync (formally Communicator). The fact that Microsoft has not offered the 2010 version of these tools in its online suite has been frustrating to resellers and subscribers alike.
In addition to the new name and latest versions of the underlying platforms, Microsoft has also modified the price structure. For businesses with fewer than 25 employees, Microsoft will charge $6 per user per month; for larger companies, plans start at $2 per user per month for email alone. Prices scale up to $27 per user a month, which includes telephony features (voicemail in your inbox) and video/voice conferencing. There’s also a single sign-on to access all of these services. Before now, Microsoft sold its Business Productivity Online Suite for $120/user/year. Google Apps runs $50 per user per year, so Microsoft’s new price points are much more competitive.
Further evidence that the two companies are focusing efforts against one another is several recent announcements that heavy hitters are transitioning their focus to promoting BPOS/Office365 and Microsoft claiming their service is more “enterprise ready.” Both Capgemini and Serena Software had practices dedicated to Google Apps Premier Edition (GAPE) implementations and it appears both companies are now focusing on BPOS/Office365. This is significant because IT partners typically have substantial influence with the clients they serve. Many businesses rely on trusted relationships with their technology partners for guidance and feedback on platform decisions. Additional defections could damage Google’s ability to generate credibility in the enterprise space. Google came out of the gate with GAPE much earlier than Microsoft did with BPOS but Microsoft dominates the enterprise email market with their Exchange product.
We at Acrowire were early adopters of GAPE but migrated to BPOS this year because of our strong Microsoft partnership and GAPE’s poor Outlook integration. Google hurt themselves considerably this year by failing to provide GAPE support for Office 2010 at RTM. It wasn’t until late August that GAPE provided the ability to synchronize your Google Calender with Outlook 2010. That was almost one full year after the Office 2010 beta began.
It seems as if Google’s rivalry with Microsoft got the better of them and they failed to recognize how significant Outlook is in the everyday lives of business users. Salesforce.com is guilty of the same indiscretion but has finally provided basic integration capabilities. Microsoft competitors should recognize that not making their products and services compatible with the tools that businesses rely on only hurts their cause and helps their competitors. It seems like a pretty basic concept but one that continues to elude Microsoft’s biggest rivals. Rather than spending money on attorneys and litigation, it seems like those resources would be better served allocated towards developing features that benefit their subscribers.
Microsoft suffers from this same lack of awareness and their customers pay the price as well. This is especially true in the browser space. Many of Microsoft’s products continue to leverage proprietary technology and limit functionality when not used with Internet Explorer. SharePoint is a prime example where the user experience is negatively impacted when used with browsers other than IE. Unfortunately it appears that this trend could continue with Office365. Google’s Chrome browser is noticeably absent from the list of compatible browsers on the Office365 feature page. If history is any sort of indicator this was not an unintentional omission and was likely a strategic decision by Microsoft. As unlikely as it is, one can’t help but hope for a day when vendors put their own agendas second to that of their customers.