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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Microsoft is Finally Serious About its Cloud Services


Like many nerds of a certain age, I began my technology world with Microsoft back in the 1980's.  Microsoft so dominated the PC world that Bill Gates even had to buy a bunch of Apple Stock just to keep it alive so it could convince the Government it still had competition.

But for more than a decade, Microsoft has been mostly stagnant.  Perhaps it was like Alexander the Great who cried when he saw he had no more lands to conquer.  Microsoft dominated many areas of technology and could not be too aggressive in others without incurring the wrath of anti-trust regulators.  Microsoft survived just fine on minor updates to its existing cash cows, Windows, Office, Xbox, but was not really considered a cutting edge technology company.  Even worse, it had a reputation for being second only to Apple in its attempt to extract money from its customers.

Meanwhile, companies like Google moved to usher in the Internet Revolution.  Free services like Search, Maps, Drive, and Mail began to take control.  Today, almost everyone does email via an Internet Browser.  Even large companies are beginning to see the futility of running their own mail servers.  Individuals don't want to spend hundreds of dollars for MS Office when they can do the same things, sometimes even more easily, using Google Docs and Google Sheets for free.

Gmail vs. Oulook.com

Microsoft is getting back in the game now.  Having realized they lost the phone and tablet wars, Microsoft is focusing more on getting iPhone and Android users to use Microsoft Apps on those devices.  Outlook.com is the free email available that is in competition with Gmail.  Gmail, once the leader in giving away space for mail, limits you to 15 GB on a free account, and you have to share that space with your Google Drive documents.  Outlook offers "unlimited" space for mail.  I put unlimited in quotes because MS says it is possible to hit a limit if your Outlook grows to quickly.  I think this is to prevent people from dumping massive amounts of files in Outlook.  But if it grows slowly over time, there appears to be no limit.  Outlook.com also supports Activesync (in addition to IMAP and POP3) for your offline readers.  Gmail only supports Activesync for users that pay for business accounts.

Google Drive vs. OneDrive

Online storage is where Microsoft really beats Google though.  With a free OneDrive account, you get 15 GB of online storage.  This quickly doubles to 30 GB if you install an App on your phone to upload photos.  You can get another 5 GB by recommending other users to sign up, at 1/2 GB per user that signs up under your recommendation. With Google, free account users are stuck with a mere 15 GB, and again that limit is shared with Gmail.  To be fair, Google does not count documents created on Google Drive towards that limit.  Your limit only counts to files you upload in other formats.  Also, Google recently announced that you can store unlimited amounts of pictures in Google Pictures which, as long as they are not terribly large.  But if you are looking for space to upload lots of documents, Microsoft has the definite advantage.  Both companies offer occasional time limited deals that give free users a chance to increase their limits.  But you have to act fast and usually jump through some hoops to get the space.

If you are willing to spend a few bucks, the Microsoft advantage grows even more.  With Office 365 Personal, you get a full copy of MS Office on your computer plus a full 1 TB (~1000 GB) of storage space on your hard drive for $70/yr.  With Google, paying $50/yr gets you only up to 30 GB of storage space (again still shared with Gmail) and no extra software.  To get to 1 TB, you have to pay Google a whopping $120/yr - advantage Microsoft.

Another reason I am being drawn over to OneDrive is the ability to map a drive letter on your computer to your OneDrive account.  If you are interested in doing this, follow this link.  I find this to be a great convenience for many programs and utilities that required a drive letter, as opposed to some network connection without a letter.  It makes it easy to use LibreOffice or WordPerfect as well.  There is also a way to add a drive letter to Google Drive, which you can find here, but it really is a little convoluted.  First, you have to have the Google Drive program running on your Windows computer, not just a web link to your drive.  That program cache's a copy of your drive to a temporary folder on your computer.  You can map a drive to that using a DOS command or another third party tool, and then those changes are synched back to your Google Drive.  So, for example, if you have bought a bunch of extra space on your Google Drive to store things, you would need to have an equal or greater amount of space on your computer to cache all those documents.  As I often have near full hard drives, I find this inconvenient.

This Rivalry will benefit users for years

I have been a huge fan of Google for years, and will continue to be.  But the advantages of Microsoft's new cloud services are too good to ignore.  I will start using OneDrive more, and perhaps consider using my Outlook.com email account for some things.  In any event, the competition will likely spur both companies to continue offering better services, and keep many of these benefits available on free accounts.

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