back to article Tanks for the memories: Building a post-Microsoft Office cloud suite

Microsoft for decades not only defined personal productivity and team collaboration using Office, Outlook and Exchange – it kept the competition at arm’s length. Today, however, there’s a large community of businesses that don’t look to Microsoft for collaboration or productivity solutions at all. In fact, Microsoft doesn’t …

  1. K Silver badge

    Whilst I'm no fan of Microsoft..

    I'm forced to use GApps at work and it sucks ass!

    Even the online versions of Word and Excel leave GApps equivilant looking like an incomplete open-source throwback from 2003!

    1. James12345

      Re: Whilst I'm no fan of Microsoft..

      I use GSuite at work and at home and think it is brilliant.

    2. ColonelDare

      Re: Whilst I'm no fan of Microsoft..

      I am no fan of M$ either so I keep all my documents in Open Data Format and avoid proprietary file formats and 'closed' scripting languages such as VBA thus avoiding:

      > If you don’t have the complexity of legacy systems to integrate with or a need for complicated macros in Excel, why would you look to the ageing software giant?

      Colonel Dare - Pilot of Future Proof [insert Dan Dare icon here]

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Whilst I'm no fan of Microsoft..

        Google Docs' best feature is the ability for people to edit a document together in real-time. Other than that, it's not great and formatting options are basic to say the least. Ditto sheets.

        I can't stand the gmail web interface. It's far too restrictive and why the hell can't they let you press the delete button on your keyboard to delete messages? Hotmail lets you do that. Still, you can get IMAP so I use Thunderbird, which works well.

        The best bit of Gsuite is the calendar. Being able to have a work calendar, a personal one, plus my wife's all visible on my phone (using a third-party app) does make life a lot easier.

        1. TheVogon Silver badge

          Re: Whilst I'm no fan of Microsoft..

          "Google Docs' best feature is the ability for people to edit a document together in real-time."

          MS Office supports that too. You stick your documents onto on-premise Sharepoint / or via Office online. So no different in concept from having to edit them in Google's cloud, except that you also have an on-premise option.

          "The best bit of Gsuite is the calendar. Being able to have a work calendar, a personal one, plus my wife's all visible on my phone"

          Outlook supports accessing multiple calendars and has done for years. l have several visible on my phone.

        2. cambsukguy

          Re: Whilst I'm no fan of Microsoft..

          I can view all my calendars, shared or otherwise on my phone...

          ...without a third-party app.

          I assumed al mobile OSs could do that, but then I am often surprised by what my phone does OOTB compared to others - especially when it comes to Office files and cloudy stuff.

    3. fran 2

      Re: Whilst I'm no fan of Microsoft..

      I just migrated our office to G Suite from MS, we ended up giving 1/3 of the users office back as a standalone as we couldn't prise Excel from some cold dead hands.

      That being said, most people prefer the Team Drives over SharePoint, but the ability to share sub-folders in Teams is causing some angst among G suite users.

      G suite Vault is pretty good for archiving, holding and search, though annoyingly deleted users' data is also removed from the vault.

      G Suite is still quite immature compared to O365, however for SME's it is a cheaper and easier to manage offering

      1. TheVogon Silver badge

        Re: Whilst I'm no fan of Microsoft..

        "however for SME's it is a cheaper"

        I bet it isn't after also licensing Excel for 1/3 your users and keeping that supported / current...

    4. TheVogon Silver badge

      Re: Whilst I'm no fan of Microsoft..

      "I'm forced to use GApps at work and it sucks ass!"

      Quite. Loads of disadvantages and no noteable advantages other than fractionally cheaper.

      Particularly an issue in the enterprise world it has no DRM support to let you send files around and control what is done to them. All you can do is set ACLs to web links in the Google cloud, which is not the same thing at all. And in pretty much every other aspect it has less functionality / is more limited than the Microsoft solutions. And there is no on-premises alternative with Google.

      There is a reason Amazon has books for migrating from Google Apps to Office 365 and not the reverse...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Whilst I'm no fan of Microsoft..

        "There is a reason Amazon has books for migrating from Google Apps to Office 365 and not the reverse..."

        That's simply because managing O365 is so damn convoluted compared to G Suite.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Whilst I'm no fan of Microsoft..

      "Even the online versions of Word and Excel leave GApps equivilant looking like an incomplete open-source throwback from 2003!"

      Microsoft word had all the word processing power that I (and a HUGE number of other people) needed in 2003.

      1. Naselus

        Re: Whilst I'm no fan of Microsoft..

        Yeah, I honestly don't see much reason to migrate from Office to G-Suite. Office does pretty much all we want, everyone knows how to use it (or at least is equally familiar with not understanding how to), and is only marginally cheaper. It remains the gold standard for general office donkey-work programs. G-Suite seems to me more like a set of extremely limited, semi-functional imitators than a serious rival.

        And the price difference is not sufficient to make up for the many shortfalls of the Google equivalent.

        There's a good reason why the Accounts department in any firm big enough to have one want to keep Excel; Sheets lacks half the features that they use on a daily basis. It's not an accountant's idea of a spreadsheet; it's some kid at Google's idea of one, and he doesn't know half the stuff that the accountant wants.

        Docs is likewise missing 50% of the features of Word. It can be used to write basic stuff, but if you want to do full-scale word processing, then it's just not there at all. I've never really needed the collaboration aspect (which is the only place where Google is generally competitive); but there's often been times that I want some feature from Word which is just plain missing.

        Which leaves Slides, and sure, Slides is about as good as Powerpoint. Anyone who actually does external presentations, on the other hand, will not use either of these things, and instead makes slideshows in Acrobat or inDesign.

        As for Libreoffice... it just never quite seems to get feature parity, does it? Don't get me wrong - I love Libre, I wrote both my degrees on it, I use it at home and have a backup copy of it at work for files where MS Office just screws up the format, but there's always just one or two random features which you'll need once in a blue moon that are missing from Libre (and definitely absent from Google Docs) but are certain to be present in MS Office.

        So really, MS Office > Libre > Google suite.

      2. cambsukguy

        Re: Whilst I'm no fan of Microsoft..

        > Microsoft word had all the word processing power that I (and a HUGE number of other people) needed in 2003

        This is a common view - one I subscribed to - until I subscribed to the latest Office, having owned Office 200x.

        Small things like having immediate visual views or feedback in menus of what you might or have done is useful.

        O365 sends me emails of additional features (not a power user by any means) like the recent one that adds a 'Word Editor'. Ostensibly, just a the usual spell and grammar checker. But this system expands upon it, adds natural language analysis and analyses writing style etc.

        Of course, many will find it an annoying hindrance (I think it is off by default though). However, may, like my foreign gf, will find it invaluable to reduce English faux paus.

        Given that one can get five 'person' licenses for £70pa, each with 5 x 1TB of cloud storage and allowed use on a PC, mobile and tablet for all 5 users, this is not a bad price at all for the (always) latest version.

        I know said gf, her dad and my son all appreciate it - even have a spare.

        1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

          Re: Whilst I'm no fan of Microsoft..

          I'm a fan of neither Google's nor Microsoft's online offerings but I find MS to be more offensive at least with the OneDrive pop-up at work. It comes up at least once a day at the oddest times and every time I think I've finally killed it, it comes back. I don't know if it's an corporate IT thing or what but the push is pretty hard and all it does is suck a few more moments of my time away from more productive endeavors.

          So how long before Amazon has their own cloud office suite?

  2. AMBxx Silver badge
    Mushroom

    I miss the days when it was just email!

    I'm a freelancer, so many customers. That means that in addition to old-fashioned email and telephone, I now need Slack, Skype, WhatsApp all setup on every PC. I'm sure I've missed something.

    Slack is only good until I stop working for a customer and they delete my access. I've then lost all history which means I have no evidence of anything they ever asked me to do. Just opening myself up for legal action.

    There doesn't appear to be a WhatsApp app for PC, so I need to check messages on my mobile. I really hate the way WhatsApp sucks in all my contacts too.

    As for Skype - wtf are MS up to? No integration between Skype for Business and regular Skype?

    1. Duncan Idaho

      Re: I miss the days when it was just email!

      lucky for you there is a whatsapp pc app. Downside is it relies on having your phone online but its still more convenient than constantly picking your phone up

    2. 2+2=5 Silver badge

      Re: I miss the days when it was just email!

      > I now need Slack, Skype, WhatsApp all setup on every PC. I'm sure I've missed something.

      https://xkcd.com/1810/

    3. TheVogon Silver badge

      Re: I miss the days when it was just email!

      "As for Skype - wtf are MS up to? No integration between Skype for Business and regular Skype?"

      Yes there is. https://support.skype.com/en/faq/FA12315/can-i-contact-skype-for-business-users-from-skype

      1. AMBxx Silver badge

        Re: I miss the days when it was just email!

        Yes there is. https://support.skype.com/en/faq/FA12315/can-i-contact-skype-for-business-users-from-skype

        Yes, but look at all the restrictions. Different clients, no conferencing. It's a mess.

        1. TheVogon Silver badge

          Re: I miss the days when it was just email!

          "Different clients,"

          It's a entirely different product.

          "no conferencing."

          You can do person to person conferencing (video messaging) and make voice calls between normal Skype and Skype for Business.

          The Sype for business user can also send you a conference link to . Works from your web browser or you can install a fat client.

          "It's a mess."

          Not really. If you want business (multi user) conferencing, you need Skype for business, or accept an invite from someone who has it.

  3. a pressbutton

    Actually google docs does support scripting / automation

    It is sort of javascript rather than VBA and is a bit of a transition.

    I have written a few simple things as needed.

    IMO it is a superset of what VBA on a PC can do as you can have event based triggers that are timed - i.e. at 1pm send an email to a list of people suggesting lunch, or grab a lump of time sensitive data at 4.45pm and store it - and you do not need to have your PC switched on or logged in.

    I have not explored googles database (or know if they do one) - only docs and sheets.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Actually google docs does support scripting / automation

      the problem is how pig-slow it runs, though. If you're doing simple things, it's fine, but if you have 5000 rows in your spreadsheet, UI performance *STINKS*. At least, that's been MY experience.

      Keep the documents SMALL, and google docs will work. But javascript-based editing STILL stinks, regardless.

      (at least it's platform-independent)

      LibreOffice is the better way to handle documents and spreadsheets. Collaborative 'cloudy' documents are highly overrated.

      /me hasn't purchased an MS Office since '97 and that one had clippy - bleah - and I only did it because a customer kept sending me '.doc' files in a format I couldn't read with office '95. And then Office '97 kept failing to work right on systems with >1G of RAM (particularly ACCESS) and trying to fix it made printing stop working. So I went to Open/LibreOffice on all windows boxen and that's the end of that.

  4. msknight Silver badge

    Not enterprise grade

    I had a Google engineer sit by my side when I pointed out an important spell check problem, making it completely untrustworthy. "Oh... it shouldn't do that." they said. To the best of my knowledge, it still isn't fixed two years later.

    I cna see how small business and individuals can find Google tools useful, but medium and large... well, let's just say that the lack of functionality that required plugins, the lack of macros... it is no wonder why Excel is clung to with such passion.

    1. bobajob12
      Coat

      Re: Not enterprise grade

      Was it that it could not spell "can"?

  5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    For this Cloud-based discussion, we’ll leave LibreOffice out of it

    Why?

    Clicks File. Ooh, look, Open Remote File is an option. Select that, Click on Add service. Google Drive is actually the first choice there.

    If you don't want to put your business in the hands of MS or Google for storage you could always turn to NextCloud, either running your own copy locally or sign up with a commercial vendor to host it.

  6. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

    I guess

    ... if I were inclined for a little more work, and in the need of cloud storage, then rather than going into MS 365 or G suite, I would have setup my own server. Perhaps NextCloud, or faster alternative, and integrated with SSO like Shibboleth. As for email, there is nothing wrong with IMAP.

  7. Gringo99

    I am paranoid

    but i like to host my stuff myself.

    I've recently found https://sandstorm.io/ that covers chat, video, storage etc.

    It can be cloudy or self hosted.

    But for chat/video/conf call I prefer using Matrix-Synapse with Riot frontend, as it supports end-to-end encryption too (and it has a nice interface).

    I know, it's a lot of work to set up, but if you don't want to use MS or Google there is not much else.

    I've also found Collabora for online docs/sheets (https://www.collaboraoffice.com/code/#getting_set_up) that can be self hosted, but haven't tried it yet tbh.

    My point is there are options if somebody wants to go "private" or simply not MS/Gsuite.

  8. Psy-Q

    No one mentioned Collabora Office Online. Maybe it does that co-authoring better and has fewer formatting problems.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "No one mentioned Collabora Office Online."

      It's available for Nextcloud but I didn't mention it as I haven't tried it. IMBW but I understand it's based on LibreOffice.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I love Gdrive / Gsuite and prefer working in it to working in MS-Office.

    On the occasional document that cannot be edited without changing the layout I use personal.onlyoffcie.com, but I mainly just work in Gsuite.

    My employer uses MSO365 and I hate using it. I particularly dislike the online office software. Only suitable for small documents and if you collaborate it destroys documents.

    I think I like Gsuite so much because it makes you think how to do things before you start, rather than hopping between applications like a hapless chicken and then trying to add some kind of admin/backups etc to a PC. Once I got used to Gsuite I started hating the way MS forces a workflow where you only afterwards think about backups, what gets stored where etc..

  10. ridley

    GSuite File Sharing

    "You’ll be sending a link to the file’s web location in Google Drive and the recipient will need a Google Account to even view them."

    Not quite. Just change the sharing options to either public or anyone with link.

  11. SharonTPokeworthy

    Good summary - For an IT shop to adopt though, what are the comparative costs, and how well does that stack integrate and inter-operate with each other?

  12. TheRealRoland

    We use google docs for collaboration / ideation; then as soon as a document reaches a certain state, we take it up into an Office tool - Word, Excel, etc.

    So many issues still with cross-platform calendars - invites initiated in Google Calendar being stripped from data - no integration of plugins to allow easy invite generation from meeting software, stuff like that.

    Sure, enterprise-ready for perhaps the IT depts at large companies, but for the regular users that need stuff 'to simply work' - nightmare. I was glad after having used google stuff for 2 years to going back to O365

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Both have (dis)advantages. I prefer O365, but mainly because the GSuite doesn't work in all parts of the world. If you have users in China, Google is not an option. And good luck with sending a link to a Google document to a Chinese supplier or customer.

  14. Sam Adams the Dog

    I like the google suite, but....

    I rarely use anything but the google suite. Easy to use, free of some brain dead Office legacy (like the fact that sorting in Excel on a column by default sorts only that column. I don't think I've ever wanted to do that). The interface and options are far more limited than in Office, and that's for the most part a good thing, to me. I find it nearly impossible to find a even feature that I've used in Office if I can't remember where it is to be found. Some features are entirely missing in the Google suite, but I'm not sure I've ever missed them; but whatever I've wanted to use in Google has been easy to find.

    I have used the JavaScript API to Google Sheets to mock up a full working POC for a new facility I was developing for a web-based, spreadsheet-like existing product. It worked great. I'm sure I could have done it with VBA in Excel, but I was happy to be able to stay within the Google suite.

    But clearly, the Google suite isn't under serious development & improvement. What you can do with a multiple selection is very limited. You can't define style profiles for re-use. The viewing options for a Doc are limited (even if you don't show a paginated view, you get a heavy horizontal line in the middle of a table cell at the place where a page break would be). Another thing I'd really like in Google docs is the ability to tag revisions with names. It's nice that you can recover to any edit in the past, but I'd still like to be able to tag and recover revisions myself.

    What I miss most in ALL the suites I am aware of is the ability to have a single, tabbed document where each tab can be a different type of document: a doc in one tab, a spreadsheet in another, a presentation in another. I realize that today we use folders for that, but it gets quite cumbersome. So if I were writing a new suite of my own, that's the main differentiating feature I'd add.

  15. IHateWearingATie

    My wife's work use the G Suite , but have so many exceptions (particularly in marketing where she works for Excel and Powerpoint - files going back and forward to agencies etc) that I do wonder if they are saving any money and would just be better off going for a 365 licence per user.

    I was forced to use the G Suite working at a previous client - it was okay but not great. Couldn't go over to it permanently - you'd have to prise Excel from my cold dead fingers!

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Outlook.com email and gmail have switched places

    Outlook is now the one with the simple, streamlined interface. Gmail has turned into a noisy mess over the years. Both offer tons of free storage, and direct access to your cloudy bits. Office online apps are miles ahead of g-apps.

    If you're building a post-MS Office cloud suite, you should take a long look at Outlook.com plus Office online.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Google will argue that everyone has a Google account"

    *ahem!*

    1. HandleAlreadyTaken
      Coat

      Re: "Google will argue that everyone has a Google account"

      They may not even know, but they have it.

  18. Ozzard
    Black Helicopters

    Offline for me, please - and Office is still the de-facto interchange format

    I work with confidential information. I work with documents with very tight formatting for presentation that can't lose that formatting when round-tripped between multiple organisations. I work on trains in a hilly area of England with lots of tunnels. As I've said here previously (and been thoroughly voted down), I'll stick with the offline version of Microsoft Office. Office is still the de-facto document interchange format for anything that has even moderate formatting; it allows me to keep on editing my document even when going through a tunnel on the train; and I can be reasonably certain that what I'm doing is only sniffed by external agents when I choose to expose something over email or a file-sharing service, not every time I type a keystroke.

  19. Milton Silver badge

    Missing the point completely

    Neither the article nor comments address the stark and simple fact that since 8,000 BC sensible, reasonably intelligent people have communicated with each other to achieve, as teams, great things. They did this without the colourful "collaboration" software foamed upon by marketurds.

    Neither Office nor Google, no matter how much fancy bollocks and interactive menus are sprayed around, will transform an unproductive idiot into a valuable team member: he'll always just be the boss.

  20. bobajob12
    Facepalm

    Online editing is the Devil's work

    Dunno why companies find this so hard.

    If your organization uses Word like a consumer, that is, you open it up, type your words and exit, then either O365/SharePoint, Word Online or Gdocs is going to be just fine for you. And the real-time collab is really clever.

    If your organization uses templates, macros, document version control; or if your organization produces complex documents that have, say, legal cross refs or equations or captioned pictures, Word on a real PC is still the only game in town.** Libre comes close but the macros kill it.

    It doesn't make one better than the other, it just is. What contributes to office misery is when some PHB decides that there is only One True Way, and compliance is mandatory. That's when you get into really dangerous territory and crazy stuff like Bob on the third floor typing confidential docs on his home PC and bringing them in on a USB stick. Cos hey, his home is not streaming with viruses and malware, right?

    **To those of you writing spaceship manuals in FrameMaker, or Real Programmers writing in TeX, I salute you...and know that you already know what to do and who to ignore.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Online editing is the Devil's work

      HA! I once worked on a spaceship manual in Harvard Graphics!

      No joke.

  21. UncleMark
    Pint

    MS Word vs Libre Office etc.

    I've written 100 page docs, some peer reviewed and published, in both MS Office and other environments (e.g., Libre Office). First pass rough drafts always came out better (less edits/revisions) in Office partly due to the grammar and sentence structure checking. For anything 'serious', I will always keep a local (non-cloud) version of MS Office around for as long as that's possible.

  22. Sol Kahn

    share a gdoc/sheet as pdf, opendoc, msoffice attachment not link

    easy as...

    File - Download as

    or

    File - Email As Attachment

    or did I miss a brick sailing towards my face?

    Admittedly the conversion doesn't always do the kindest things to the formatting...

  23. ecofeco Silver badge
    Coat

    You fogot one other option

    Lotus Notes anyone?

    Mine's the one with NFIXUP and NCOMPACT in the pockets. ----------------->

    1. bobajob12

      Re: You fogot one other option

      This being Notes, I'd check your pocket doesn't have a hole in it.

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