Microsoft’s Office.com, Office Online, OneDrive, Office 365 are a confusing mess

Microsoft has changed the name of the former Office Web Apps to Office Online: apparently people were confused by the name, thinking they had to have apps installed to use the service, which doesn’t.
However the bigger confusion remains: the company has four brands that are an overlapping mess. Office.com, Office Online, OneDrive, and Office 365, are different ways to get to very similar functionality, but with various options and components.
First of all why have a services called Office Online at Office.com? Can’t we just call it Office.com? You can’t because Office Online also includes various versions of Office 365: three for personal/home use, six for business.
Second of all, how do the various flavors of Office Online differ? First, the home versions:
Screenshot 2014-02-25 11.11.26
So, the baseline free Office Online does not include desktop Office: it’s like Google Drive, basically. The two for-fee versions do, but you have to pay either $80 for four years ($1.67/month) or $10/month.
Screenshot 2014-02-25 11.13.39
Stepping up to Office 365 for business introduces ‘business class’ email — presumably Exchange based. The lowest priced lacks desktop Office, and the highest priced includes Active Directory and ‘self-service business intelligence’ which is presumably means some reporting capabilities based on usage.
Screenshot 2014-02-25 11.16.03
 
The enterprise grade offerings cut things a bit differently. The lowest priced is just email and Active Directory: Exchange/Outlook in the cloud. The higher priced plans include Office.com baseline capabilities ¬†plus ‘Enterprise social’ which seems to be Yammer plus related connectors for Sharepoint. The highest priced E3 plan includes desktop Office and eDiscovery Center (a regulatory monitoring capability needed by financial service and other regulated industries).
Whew.
At the everyday, microcosmic view of actually working socially with other people around and through documents, I am not convinced that Microsoft really does much of a better job that Google, however. The much ballyhooed real-time editing support in Office.com comes down to seeing flags in a document for where others’ cursors are positioned:
Screenshot 2014-02-24 13.14.49
Personally, I favor the real-time chat that Google has just rolled out over that:
Screenshot 2014-02-23 13.23.42
And neither provides a capability for a real activity stream outside of documents, which is a critical need for me when collaborating. Google looks to be the closest, given the recent surfacing of the hidden Activity to the top level:
Screenshot 2014-02-25 11.41.57
That sequence of system activity updates on the right only needs an ‘update’ box added so that users can post information in the stream, and then Google will be backing closer to having Yammer-like work management capabilities. Perhaps they will integrate calendars and tasks, too.
The Bottom Line
Microsoft is stretching its Office Online offerings to go from a stay-at-home dad or college student to the largest enterprise, and its trying to maintain a premium based on the notion of the value of desktop Office applications.
Personally, I generally create relatively simple documents, and the limitations of Google Drive don’t impact me much, with the exception of not being able to have a spreadsheet-style table inside a Google ‘document’ document (their equivalent of a Word doc). And I bet they will be introducing more features of that sort all the time.
So, I wonder if those missing features will actually cause people to start paying $10 or more per month?
Google has made serious inroads in the enterprise with Google Apps — which is a direct competitor to Microsoft’s email and calendars — so much hunch is that the contention point will turn out to be whether users want desktop Office apps, and also how committed they are to Windows.
Microsoft should consider simplifying these offerings, and giving away the desktop Office licenses in order to secure a beachhead in the future of office work. Yes, they will be giving up a great deal of potential cash, but they might be able to continue on as the Office application standard. Otherwise, competition from Google, Apple, and new contenders like Box and Dropbox will fragment the market, and provide the opportunity for an upstart to reveal a radically better model. (Personally, I am betting on Dropbox and Box to upset things in the near term).
For enterprise IT, Microsoft may seem like the safe alternative, one that may be a simple transition from Exchange and Outlook running on company servers and PCs. But I think that Microsoft is not making the transition to Office.com and mobile easy, so I think they’ll accelerate defections unless they make some real changes.