Office 365 Hurting the Bottom Line and Inferior to Google Apps

I have finally completed setting-up Office 365 for my school in China. I should say me and a team of people, because that is what it took- a team and constant support. This is going to be a bit of a rant, so before that happens, I want to address the costs of Office 365.

So there is no confusion with what is true and what is not, this is the pricing FROM MICROSOFT.

There are two plans most schools choose, A2 or A3. Many schools do a combination because A2 is free. There is no argument there it is 100% free. Many schools put students on A2. Why? It DOES NOT INCLUDE MS OFFICE. This means students have to buy MS Office. The teachers and staff will go to A3 to cover MS Office licensing, support, and data backups.

“Wait! This is in the cloud you don’t need MS Office!”, says your hidden voice of reason. Well, that is not true. In order to use many many features of Office 365 you need MS Office. In fact a school using Office 365 for any business applications, working with data, etc., has to have MS Office. The worst part is 90% of the people will simply use MS Office, and the community will be back to desktop applications and emails with 10 attachments instead of leveraging the power of cloud-based collaboration.

Anyone doing cloud based applications will tell you that you cannot straddle the fence. Working in the cloud is a different way of working. Yes you lose awesome features like Word Art, but you gain collaboration, speed, efficiency, and redundancy across the board.

If you look at the cost per year of Office 365 for 100 teachers, it is about $6240 USD. Or $18720 USD over three years. This is not a system you can easily move off once you are rolling, so once you are in, you are in for 3-5 years.

In addition to paying a license fee, the single-sign-on features and other security processes you need to really make the system user friendly require the setup of three separate servers. This is also a cost that most schools do not realize is part of the full plan. Depending on the schools local infrastructure this cost could be very high or very manageable.  Either way, it is money going out the door to a service.

The cost cannot be view in terms of money alone. The time needed to set this all up and the expertise to make it a seamless user experience is substantial compared to other services. While setting-up Office 365, we lost an IT engineer for 2-3 weeks.

The Local Microsoft Corporate Office in China was actually very good with direct support. There are no complaints there, the human support is real and not a recording. However, the documentation provided by Microsoft Corp. was horrible, I should say, is horrible. The instructions do not match the current Office 365 layout so we are constantly having to map through all the menus to find the terms mentioned in the support documents.

The language settings in Office 365 do not hold. They constantly revert back to the regional default. Most “Apps” in Office 365 create an error page each time a setting is applied. I have a text document with links in it. This allows me to navigate Office 365 without using the navigation. I paste in where I want to go. I have to do this because the pages constantly fail to load when in administration mode.

As a content management system is shockingly deficient and slow, even compared to open-source systems like Drupal. I actually use Drupal to help make the Office 365 experience less painful for the users.

I could go on, but I will stop the rant. I have to use Office 365 because where I am, it is the best and most affordable option for my organization. My biggest disappointment was realizing Sharepoint is still basically just as awkward and hard to work with as it was many years ago. I was looking forward to some improvements that would significantly reduce the steps required to create anything meaningful. My hopes and dreams were crushed.

The Point

Google Apps is better. I have setup both, and gone through the frustrations of both environments in the last year. I used Drupal with both as well. Drupal and Google allow powerful integration, especially because the Google Apps data from Spreadsheets can be used to create dynamic pages in Drupal.

Not only is it better in terms of power and functionality, it is significantly less of an investment in money and time. I was able to setup Google Apps alone, and then have normal people help me populate it. The human resource investment has to be considered with any project, because every time there is a major change or shift, that amount of resources will probably be needed again. Oh yeah I forgot, Google Apps is free as long as you qualify as a school. I always recommend buying 2-3 business accounts and upgrading storage on a few accounts, but the annual cost is so low it does not even more the numbers on the balance sheet.

Schools that are privately funded and in a location where they qualify for Google Apps, should not consider Office 365 unless there is a strong underlying dependency on data driven applications powered by Microsoft products. If you do not know what I just said, then you probably are not using these applications. They would be customized and powering the business processes. This does not mean you like Word and Word Art and really feel it is integral to learning.

An Office 365 subscription maybe financially beneficial to a school that has no investment at all in MS Office or MS Exchange, but to be honest, subsidizing individuals to own their own copy of MS Office is probably the cheapest way to go, if the average contract is 3-5 years. However, the setup of an Office 365 subscription in a Microsoft free environment would be easy and provide tools that may have been missing.

I am not sure who, if anyone, reads my blog, but I hope some parents do. It would be nice for parents to inquire about school fees on the basis of the cost of certain products. It is incredibly expensive for schools to invest in products from companies like Adobe where there are not many, if any, alternatives. So savings money on groupware and communication tools should be a priority. Buying technology to meet a need or standards should trump buying because of brand loyalty or because the technology department does not know how to use anything else.

Think about it like this. Office 365 for 3 years for 100 teachers is $18720 USD. Or…

  • 50 Lego Robotics Kits with spare parts
  • 600 Raspberry Pi Kits
  • 120 TI Calculators
  • 6 MakerBot Replicator 3D Printers
  • 60 iPad Minis
  • 30 MS Surface 2 Tablets
  • And….

I could keep going, but I will end here.  If you are someone who is paying tuition, please start asking the good questions and doing the research. Counter-points are welcome.

Tony DePrato

3 thoughts on “Office 365 Hurting the Bottom Line and Inferior to Google Apps”

  1. I feel your pain. We are a google apps for education school in Poland, and love everything about google apps. I haven’t used Office365, but my suspicions it is a weak product are reinforced by your post. Microsoft doesn’t really “get” the cloud yet, I think. Sorry you are going through this.

    I liked what you wrote about how choices like this impact the bottom line. I think most of the time, parents don’t care about a product and cost, as long as they are getting a good service. Perhaps a very well made customer service survey might help provide data that this isn’t a good service, and that will help change people’s minds?

    1. Hey Bill,
      Do you have a blog? You should have if not. When I was in the UAE there was a point in 2009 where many parent protests were happening over school tuition increases. ( .

      If parents are going to go as far as protesting, calling for meetings, etc. then they should ask for the books to be opened up on expenses.
      I think most of the time the big expenses for facilities etc. are needed and these expenses impact the budget so much that making small cuts doesn’t move the decimal. So maybe worrying about $6000 USD here and $20000 USD there, is just not worth the stress. In the end a massive building project just eclipses these expenditures, and enough of the bid jobs will drive tuition up.

      However, I believe that demonstrating a spending policy that has a goal of increasing opportunities for students, is essential to keeping the community growing in the right direction. I find that designing a good learning space tends to benefit everyone. Being opened minded about the products and services that are in the learning space seems like a logical process. But I find so many people are just stuck on one brand or one way of doing things, that they roll all of there money into a resources and try and force it to work.

      Anyway thanks for the comment. Get a blog man, I think you have alot to say.

      Tony DePrato

    2. We use Google Apps (in fact Tony set it up) and it has been a struggle to get people to change but I can see the change happening (reports from the GAfE C-Panel). It’s slow now, but I feel it will pick up over the next few years.

      I had the awkward moment of addressing a number of teachers who will be receiving new computers next year. The awkwardness came when I explained they will not receive MS Office. The room went silent. It’s not just a cost but a cultural shift on how work is done.

      Bill is right, MS just doesn’t get the cloud very well right now. They are still trying to get every last egg from one of their golden geese and I think that is alienating schools, small businesses and even the personal user with their excessive costs.

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