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Microsoft Office 365 P1 & Google Apps : It's Heating Up

I’m enjoying work at the moment. Google and Microsoft are at each other’s throats again along with their well-wishers, supporters and haters. I’m none of these so am happy to monitor the arguments and in some cases the ridiculous, ill-informed rants of those who hate anything released by a certain company. The release of Office 365 has fuelled the debate and the debate brings out all the flaws which is one of the things I’m most interested in.

With the P1 plan Microsoft seems to have gone for a straight fight with Google for the small business market. With a maximum number of users set at 50 and no minimum, their target market is obvious enough and it’s about time they were addressed. Microsoft partners understand small business but there has definitely been a perception amongst some that Microsoft don’t really – apparently classing any business with under 250 employees as an SME.

The 24/7 Admin support offered by Microsoft as part of the BPOS offering has long been a selling point for the Microsoft product. Google continue to claim they have telephone and online support but I’m yet to meet anyone who has been able to find the number. I’ve got through to people who answer the phone as Google when trying to sort out my Adwords for instance but when pushed it has turned out that I was not talking to Google at all but a company to whom Google outsource a level of Adwords support.

Google partners do well out of Google because they are required for support. Microsoft have had the added value of a VERY friendly person on the other end of a telephone if you have an issue. You can then imagine my surprise to discover on the Office 365 support forum that "O365 Small Business customer support is provided through the forums. The service request feature in the portal is for billing/licensing issues only; all other issues opened through that link will be closed by customer support." (Chase Dahl - MSFT Moderator)

The support is still available for all of the enterprise plans and to be fair you get the office web apps thrown in with your subscription which comes at a price on the enterprise plans. All this however does make Office 365 plan P1 very comparable to the Google Apps offering. The ability to publish websites like we used to be able to in Office live bring the basic SharePoint available with plan P1 into line with Google Sites. Sure, there are still a lot more customisation options on the SharePoint side than with Google sites, but the free web apps with ‘live editing’ brings Office 365 right into line with Google Apps.

There have been lots of reviews of Office 365 Beta – all based on the Enterprise plans. Office 365 is clearly a group of programmes – not a single product. We will have to present the 2 plans separately and essentially as different products, which they are. I would think people are going to need support with the P1 product and perhaps it is more worthwhile for a lot of them to go for the enterprise product. Only time will tell us how this ends up.

The P1 package is the competitor for Google Apps – the other products are much more powerful and priced accordingly. The question however is will Office 365 kill Google Apps – I would suggest it's going to do plenty of damage and I think it’s a better product, however, everything has its price point and Google Apps Premier still comes with a saving of £1.25 per user per month.