Office 365 gives Microsoft a chance to leapfrog Google by making cloud apps easy

Familiar interface, low cost, powerful feature list puts Office 365 ahead of Google Apps, on paper

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The entry level version of the suite – Office 365 for Professionals and Small Businesses -- will cost $6 per user per month for access to Office Web Apps, Exchange, SharePoint and the IM/VoIP/online meeting service Lync online.

Office 365 for Enterprises ranges from $10 to $27 and includes better administration, more storage, the Forefront Online security suite, and the right to link Office 365 with on-premise versions of the apps in the web suite.

The price, even for the SMB version ($72/user/year), is a lot higher than the $50 per user per year Google charges for business versions of its apps. The learning curve is shorter, however, the interface is familiar and integration with existing documents and email is a lot simpler.

Google tries to minimize that with features such as the Google Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office

Google is already gearing up for the competition, with additions such as an agreement with Box.net that integrate the two more tightly, including letting Box.net users access Word and Excel files in Google Docs.

They're also bragging about how much more widely accessible their services are than Office 365, which currently supports smartphones or tablets only if they're running Windows Phone 7.

The familiar interface, almost seamless integration with desktop file formats, low upfront price and greater functionality of Office 365 – which shows an effort to reduce the feature bloat of Office but still ends up with a larger tools list than Google's -- will be the biggest selling point for end users and budget managers in most companies.

The back-end support and administration tools in Office 365 – also richer than those Google offers – and variety of login-security options are what will appeal to IT, which is appropriately cautious about any web service that doesn't allow for granular monitoring and control of apps it supplies to its end users.

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