Why move from Office to Google Docs?


The Boston Globe has reported that the city of Boston is moving from Microsoft software to Google Apps online, including transitioning from Exchange to Gmail for email and calendaring, from Microsoft Office to Google Docs, and from Windows file shares to Google Drive to storing documents. In short, all that will be left on the desktop will be the Microsoft Windows OS.

From the article:

It will cost Boston around $800,000 to move over to Gmail, Google Docs for word processing, and Google’s cloud service for storing documents. But by dropping some Microsoft products, the city government will save at least $280,000 a year.

“The number one reason that organizations are going to Google is price,” said Matt Cain, an analyst at the tech research firm Gartner Inc.

What’s more, Cain said, Google’s contract terms are much simpler than dealing with Microsoft.

It’s believed the transition will take a year. That doesn’t sound very long. Dropping Microsoft Office for Google Docs is a bold move and document conversion could prove challenging. I wonder what testing was completed to build the busines case for the switch.

“Anyone with a current Gmail account will not have much trouble transitioning,” said David Nero, director of technology for Boston.

Hmmm. A significant percentage of employees may already have personal Gmail accounts which certainly helps in terms of familiarity with Gmail’s user interface. But dropping Outlook and Office at work may come as a bit of a shock. And moving from having any on-premise Office suite to browser-based is unlikely to be that straightforward.

According to the article, Microsoft software was costing an estimated $100 per employee per year compared to approximately $50 per user per year for a Google Apps subscription. But that’s comparing on-premise software licensing with an online subscription. A similar level of savings would also have been achieved by switching to Office 365. Government pricing plans offered by Google and Microsoft are closely aligned for comparible features.

If the migration is predicted to cost $800,000 and will save $280,000 per year, it will take nearly 3 years for the project to break even. It would be interesting to have an update in 18 months time once the transition has been completed and operational for 6 months. If the decision really was primarily about price, it’s a bad one.

We moved from Exchange and Outlook to Gmail three years ago. We still have Office on the desktop. Some aspects of Google Docs knock the socks off of Office Web Apps. And vice versa… The decision of which is best to use should be based on the ways you work, not just the price.

One claim we certainly would agree with is that Google’s contract terms for cloud services are a lot more straightforward to deal with. Both as a customer and as a partner. Microsoft needs to get on top of that.

Disclaimer: Joining Dots Ltd has a paid subscription to both Google Apps for Business and Microsoft Office 365 for Enterprise. We continue to test and compare the features in each.


Loyalty, control and terms of service

Laptop secure but not

If you want to protect your intellectual property, worry less about online security controls and more about loyalty. If your employees care, they are less likely to share with outsiders.

In the past week, Microsoft has changed its standard terms of service agreements. As reported by The Verge:

Microsoft’s revised policy allows the company to access and display user content across all of its cloud properties. Whereas the previous version of the TOS granted Microsoft the right to appropriate user content “solely to the extent necessary to provide the service,” the terms now state that this content can be used to “provide, protect and improve Microsoft products and services.”

Commentors on the article noted that this was a somewhat hypocritical move. When Google made a similar change to their terms of service just 6 months ago, Microsoft took out adverts in major newspapers to spread a little FUD*. Covered by the IdeaLab at the time, Microsoft felt the need to advise everyone:

Google is in the midst of making some unpopular changes to some of their most popular products. Those changes, cloaked in language like “transparency,” “simplicity,” and “consistency,” are really about one thing: making it easier for Google to connect the dots between everything you search, send, say or stream while using one of their services.

But, the way they’re doing it is making it harder for you to maintain control of your personal information. Why are they so interested in doing this that they would risk this kind of backlash? One logical point: Every data point they collect and connect to you increases how valuable you are to an advertiser.


Hypocracy aside, and pity the Microsoftie that has to keep a straight face explaining the about-turn, the changes in terms of service are no surprise. Enabling content to be integrated across services does offer the potential to improve the services and yes, also the potential to earn more money from advertising. A necessary factor when offering ‘free’ services to consumers. Somebody always pays.

Dropbox is a popular online file sharing tool and has also come in for criticism. A recent article by Varonis highlighted that Dropbox holds the keys to encrypt and decrypt to your data on their servers (their emphasis, not mine). They have to, both for feature reasons – the file sharing element – and for legal reasons. What does this mean?

This means that a Dropbox employee could theoretically view (or steal) your data

O! M! G!*

Before you start worrrying abut Dropbox’s employees, look closer to home… A recent study by the Ponemon Institute found: (my comments in brackets…)

  • 90% of organisations in the study had experienced leakage or loss of sensitive or confidential documents over the past 12 months
  • 71% of respondents say that controlling sensitive or confidential documents is more difficult than controlling records in databases (surprised it wasn’t higher than that)
  • 70% of respondents say that employees, contractor or business partners have access to sensitive or confidential documents even when access is not a job or role-related requirement
  • 63% of respondents do not believe they are effective at assigning privilege (permissions) to [manage] access to sensitive or confidential documents


So to summarise, most organisations do not have adequate controls to manage their intellectual property when it is in document form, regardless of where it is stored. If that’s the case, accept a simple fact. If a document exists, at some point you may lose control of it.  The terms of service for online storage are the least of your worries.

So what’s a business to do?

Whilst I would not suggest throwing out the security controls and it sounds like some organisations could do with improving them, I would encourage putting more effort (and investment) into making sure employees care. People who feel loyal to a cause will protect that cause.

Over this last weekend, Lewis Hamilton grumpily shared an Instagram picture of the McLaren Formula 1 team telemetry sheet, showing his and his team mate Jensen Button’s performance during qualifying. Reported today in The Times:

Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, could not contain his mirth as he claimed his engineers were poring over data that is usually restricted only to McLaren’s drivers and race engineers. Hamilton deleted the tweet but it was too late.


What security system could have prevented that? A photo of a print-out shared via Twitter by someone paid an awful lot of money to win races in part based on the intellectual property held in said photo. But who was having a particularly crappy weekend with the team, again… Naturally the PR machine is now in full throttle (pun intended) and McLaren claims the data loss is no big deal.

How employees feel about the company will have a far bigger influence on maintaining control of your data than any security system, digital or physical. The ‘vibe’ of the office matters more than most people realise, for so many different reasons – productivity gains, collaborative working, knowledge sharing and yes, protecting intellectual property from prying eyes.


* FUD = Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. What competitors like to create about rivals in customers’ minds
* OMG = Oh My God/Goodness, depending on your religious slant, often delivered with a twist of sarcasm.

The Clearing and the Cloud

Clearing through the clouds

Last Thursday, students found out their A Level results that would, for many, determine if and where they were going to university. For those who didn’t quite make their grades, the first port of call is UCAS – the University and College Admissions Service – to go through the clearing process, i.e. find a university with places available that will accept their grades.

The UCAS web site crashed.

Everyone knew this year would be busier than normal due to next year’s rise in tuition fees. As well as the normal intake there were going to be those who chose to delay a gap year and those who managed to take their A Levels early, all to avoid starting next year and facing a hike in fees (potentially an extra £17,000 for a 3-year degree).  Yet UCAS decided to just double their capacity.

From The Times on Friday 19th September:

The organisation said that it was taken by surprise by the numbers attempting to log in. At one point, there were 450 hits per second – four times as many as last year.

Ms Curnock Cook [Head of UCAS] said that despite doubling its staff and website capacity the service was on the brink of being unable to cope with demand.

“I don’t think anyone anticipated [such high demand]. We were not ready for a quadrupling of our capacity…”

Was there ever a better example of why public sector web-sites should be running on a cloud computing platform?  Where resources can be scaled up and down to meet occasional peaks in demand.  It happens to HMRC each January 31st as people rush to get their tax returns filed online in time.  Schools web sites struggle each year when they allocate school places.  I’d guess the NHS has its share of demand during seasonal festivities. Each peak occuring at a different time of year, all could benefit from a shared ‘on demand’ platform.

And it’s not just been a bad week for public sector web sites.  HP made a rather massive announcement on Thursday, breaking news that they are pulling out of the consumer hardware business just weeks (and in some cases days) after launching their new tablet device. The new focus being on infrstracture, software and services.  By Saturday, rumours began to spread across the Internet of a ‘fire sale’ dropping prices from $399 to $99 to get rid of the stock.  And the HP web site crashed under the demand. As Larry Dignan pointed out, you’d think an infrastructure specialist would know better…

Some of the cloud computing vendors are doing nothing but talk about cloud. Cloud this, cloud that, cloud everywhere.  There’s a long road to travel before cloud computing becomes pervasive, just as mainframes didn’t disappear overnight when the PC arrived in the workplace.  But some scenarios would benefit more from cloud computing than continuing with traditional methods, in the same way some uses of mainframes dropped rapidly as PCs offered new cheaper and more flexible ways of working with information.  If you’re in a business that can suffer seasonal peaks in demand on your web site and it matters, think about how that site is hosted.


  • Universities slam door on 90,000 applicants as competition intensifies – Joanne Sugden and Greg Hirst, The Times (iPad edition)
  • HP’s TouchPad Fire Sale: The Fallout – Larry Dignan, ZDNet

Related blog posts

Further reading in the notebook under Cloud Computing (about), Cloud Services (providers) and Cloud Cases (examples).