Office 365's biggest competitor: Google? Or could it be Microsoft itself?

It may be more complicated than a simple contest between Google and Microsoft cloud apps…

It seems Office 365 might have what it takes to challenge Google. But things might not be that simple, says Tim Ferguson.

Microsoft has launched its Office 365 suite of software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications as it bids to take on Google Apps, and on the face of it Microsoft's technology could have the edge over Google's.

Office 365 combines Office Web Apps - online versions of Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint and Word - with web-based versions of the Exchange email system, SharePoint collaboration platform and Lync unified communications tech, previously part of the Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS).

Microsoft Office 365's success isn't guaranteed

Microsoft's big software-as-a-service push, Office 365, faces competition but not just from GoogleImage: Microsoft

Lync in particular is more comprehensive than Google's offering because it offers more advanced videoconferencing and web meetings. Office 365's Excel and SharePoint applications also appear more sophisticated than Google's versions.

Another factor in Office 365's favour is the familiarity people have with Microsoft technology. Although there are plenty of Google Apps users, the interface isn't as familiar to people who have been using Microsoft software for years.

Organisations that have previously shied away from Google Docs due to the unfamiliar interface could be tempted into using Microsoft's SaaS applications as they'll be in a format they're used to.

Google Apps admittedly has a number of advantages over Office 365, including a slightly cheaper price point. The Google technology is also better for more simple collaboration tasks through Google Groups and Docs.

So overall, Office 365 technology seems more sophisticated, complete and familiar - significant factors that, all things being equal, could make it superior to Google Apps.

But Microsoft's huge on-premise technology presence means things aren't equal. The challenge for Microsoft with Office 365 isn't to provide a better product than Google, it's convincing users of its on-premise technology that shelling out for Office 365 is worth it.

Microsoft already has plenty of BPOS users and there's little reason why these customers won't continue using it now it has become Office 365.

But can Office 365 move the use of its SaaS technology beyond those already using BPOS? I'm not so sure.

Organisations paying to use on-premise versions of Office are unlikely to...