Should SMBs Switch to Google Apps for Business or Go with Office 2010?

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With the impending general availability of Microsoft Office 2010, undeniably one of the most popular office productivity suites on the planet today, does your SMB have plans to get it any time soon? Or perhaps you are now evaluating Google Apps for Business as you consider doing an "upgrade" to Google's Web-based office suite?


According to new data from Forrester that was released on May 11, an overwhelming 81 percent of enterprises surveyed were running Office 2007, with 78 percent of these with SharePoint deployments. In comparison, only 4 percent were using Google Apps. More importantly, a full one third of survey respondents say they are already planning an upgrade to Office 2010 within the next 12 months, as reported by ZDNet. Forrester's sample for this report consists of 115 organizations, and includes SMB decision makers.


On the other hand, Google Apps for Business is extremely compelling from a price point of view, considering that it costs just $50 per user per year for a whole range of hosted applications and a good-sized 25GB of online storage for storing e-mails and IM. When comparing the cost of licensing the requisite server-side software that a SharePoint deployment would incur, the price difference grows even more acute.


Samara Lynn addressed this topic over at PCMag and gave some suggestions why SMBs might want to stick with Office 2010. I summarized the six points below:


  • Number-crunching and complex spreadsheets - In comparison to Excel 2010 (especially the 64-bit version), Google Apps is limited in the number of columns, cells or sheets that it can have.
  • Data security - Not officially compliant with HIPAA, PCI and other similar compliance standards. In a nutshell, you might not be able to use Google Apps without violating legal requirements.
  • Graphics and editing - Far less powerful than what is available in Office 2010.
  • Web applications/database needs - No access to relational database from Google
  • Familiarity - I would just put it as the challenge of convincing people to change
  • Collaboration - Limited and non-granular sharing pales in comparison to what is available to SharePoint 2010.


While I would not go as far as to say that one is necessarily superior to the other, I think that SMBs considering a shift over to Google Apps do need to consider the following factors.


Lesser control


One aspect that SMBs have to bear in mind is how administrators (or vendors) have reduced control over what happens to the data stored on the Google cloud. And while users tend to be unequivocal that Google Apps is wonderful for "personal use," the opinion is less unanimous when it comes to usage in the business context. Users might be uncomfortable with the fact that they have no "live" person that they can turn to should there be problems accessing the service.


New kid on the block


Reading through the many insightful comments left by readers on the PCMag blog, it would appear that another common complaint has to do with the ease of accessing data stored on Google Apps. While there is a plethora of tools and methods to extract and manipulate data from within Access databases or even Excel spreadsheets, the same cannot be said for Google Apps. Of course, tools that work with Google Apps will only increase, though Google Apps remains the new kid on the block in this regard.


It's all about functionality


Ultimately, I would say that the final verdict resides with the needs of your SMB, budget, and also the type of content that is typically generated. Generally, companies with basic document processor needs and/or who are pressed to reduce their software expenses will benefit the greatest from a switch to Google Apps.


Organizations with moderate needs will probably want to do more extensive trials before jumping ship, while those that extensively leverage the advanced functionality in Office might find themselves unable to make the transition - at least for now.


What is your take on the Office 2010 versus Google Apps debate? I would love to hear if you are considering making the leap or if you have already done so. Do share your thoughts and comments here.