Earlier this week I had a Tweetbate with few folks who have a soft corner for Microsoft products on whether Office 365 (previous CloudAve coverage), Microsoft’s cloud based productivity suite, is a credible player in the modern cloud business applications space. When I say modern cloud business applications, I expect them to have, at least, the following attributes:
- Architected for cloud scale
- Open APIs and a vibrant ecosystem
- Extensive mobile support
- Socially capable
Let me first briefly explain these attributes to avoid any confusion.
- When I talk about simplicity, I am talking about simple UX in terms of accessing the functionalities in the application. For me, Bells and Whistles doesn’t matter much because our idea of application consumption has evolved from accessing bloated applications using desktop to consuming application functionalities using any compute device, whether it is desktop or smartphone or TV or, even, Refrigerator.
- When I say a modern application should be architected for the cloud scale, I am referring to the kind of architecture Gmail or Hotmail has. The productivity suite may be used by an organization with a small number of employees but it has to be architected to the internet scale like Gmail or Hotmail because the modern day cloud applications are expected to be multi-tenant and should be able to scale to the needs of the entire world.
- In today’s world, APIs are key for any modern application. Whether it is Google Apps or Salesforce or Box, APIs are one of the most used interfaces when we consider application consumption. All modern cloud applications are expected to have open APIs and, as a follow-up to this, a vibrant ecosystem around the application. Gone are the days when organizations will go to a single vendor for all their IT needs. Users in today’s modern organizations are smart enough to understand that these applications are there to serve their needs than the other way around.
- Any modern cloud application should be accessible from all mobile platforms. Period. In fact, I have even gone one step ahead and argued in many blog posts that there should be feature parity in native mobile apps across all platforms.
- Another basic requirement for any modern application is that it cannot be socially inept (pun intended).
Many pundits point out to the cost angle as one of the reasons why Office 365 is not the right choice. Part of the reason for such discussions is that they associate better ROI with anything connected to cloud and, hence, dig deep on the cost aspect while comparing the cloud applications. For me, agility, increased productivity and newer opportunities are some of the biggest advantages with cloud than the cost part. Even though Google Apps might have some advantage on the cost factor against Office 365 and Lotus Live, I am not considering it as important for this discussion. Yes, cost is still an important attribute but I am not going to focus on it in this post for strategic reasons. Also, for those who like to point out the licensing costs associated with Microsoft and IBM products, I just want to point out that Google is fast getting there. Knock off any thinking about associating free with Google automatically. Also, there is no guarantee that Google will keep the Google Apps pricing the same as they get more traction. Given their track record on pricing for cloud services (Google App Engine and Google Maps comes to my mind), I wouldn’t be surprised if they make “random” price increase on Google Apps.
Why I think Office 365 is not ready yet
The point I was making on Twitter during the debate earlier this week is that Office 365 is not yet a credible player in the modern day office productivity space (my previous take on Office 365 can be found here). To put some context for my argument below, I consider Google Apps, IBM LotusLive and Microsoft Office 365 as the three main contenders offering cloud based Office Productivity Suites. There are few others in the space but they are mostly irrelevant in the enterprise context. Out of the three, Google Apps stands far apart from the other two. IBM Lotus Live comes next (yeah, I can see some raised eyebrows here but, believe me, IBM has definitely done some interesting stuff on making their apps more socially aware than Microsoft) and Office 365 comes last. Let me explain why I feel this way about Office 365.
- Even though the idea of simplicity is least important attribute among the five listed above, I still have a feeling that Office 365 is more about Bells and Whistles than about simple consumption of functionality from multiple devices. This could very well be a personal bias and others might argue otherwise. As long as I could not consume the functionality offered by the applications in Office 365 Suite from any compute device in a seamless manner, I will still find fault with them on this.
- I have a feeling that Office 365 is not architected for internet (cloud) scale like Gmail or Hotmail. I (and many others in Clouderati) still don’t see Office 365 mail as an Exchange Service built for internet scale. I may be completely wrong on this (and I hope I get briefed about it when I talk to Microsoft team in a few weeks from now) but I will stick to my argument till I am shown otherwise. I would expect the entire Office 365 suite to be architected for the cloud era. As long as it is not done, it doesn’t fit the definition of modern enterprise cloud application.
- APIs are another big drawback for Office 365. It’s not comprehensive. There are a few APIs around Exchange and Lync but there is nothing like APIs for the whole of Office 365 functionality. For example, if I want to build an app to manipulate the docs stored in Office 365, I can’t. Google Apps, though not perfect, leads Office 365 significantly in this aspect. The good folks at Microsoft may be busy coding up APIs as we speak but my argument is based on what we have seen so far. As a result of this, there is no ecosystem around Office 365 compared to other modern enterprise cloud apps. If I have to wear the Reagan hat and shout, I will say “Tear Down this wall, Mr. Ballmer”. Looking at this from the other side, I would expect the guy who danced “Developers, Developers, Developers, ……” to dance “APIs, APIs, APIs, …..”. I expect to hear from them on this when I talk to them in the coming weeks but for now, they are lagging severely on the API front and the ecosystem front. Some pundits may not be crazy about Google Apps Marketplace but I would argue that it is the marketplace and the deep integration with third party apps there that is making Google Apps relevant to the business crowd.
- Mobile support is something that better not talked here vis a vis Office 365. Their support for different mobile platforms is dismal. In spite of their insistence on HTML5 use, the mobile browser experience with Office 365 apps is just pathetic. If I can have a grade worser than F, I would give it to Office 365. This compatibility problem is just not with the mobile browsers from other vendors, till sometime back, they were not even supporting Chrome on the desktop. I think Microsoft should have a complete reboot on how they think about embracing competing technologies. Unless they change their thinking, mobile is going to be a tough problem.
- Office 365 is nowhere closer to competing in the Social Business era. I even doubt if they have any serious plans on this front. It is time Microsoft emerges out of their old age thinking and understand the needs of modern day business users. They have a long long way to go before they can make any claims on social.
Let me make it clear that I don’t consider Google Apps as the winner in this space. This segment is still young and Microsoft and IBM has lots of opportunities to come out as winners eventually. Their existing marketshare in the traditional enterprise segment might help them in a big way if they are willing to disrupt themselves. IBM appears to be more open to disrupting themselves in the applications space than Microsoft at this point. Unless Microsoft goes out on a full steam and evolve their thinking fast to meet the needs of modern world, Google is going to stay ahead of them. With the kind of bad feeling I am getting about Google these days, I really want strong competition in this market segment and I want Microsoft to come out of the shell and keep the competition going.