Japan’s Largest University Switching to Microsoft Office 365 from Google Apps (Docs)

The largest university in Japan, Nihon University will provide “Office 365 Education” for all of its 100,000 students according to the Microsoft Japan website.

I’m still in the process of researching the details, but some things that have been mentioned that I find very interesting;

  1. Nihon University had been using “Google Apps Education Edition” since April, 2007.
  2. Reason 1: Faculty staff used Google Apps but student uptake was not good. Students preferred to use their own free mail accounts.
  3. Reason 2: Unfamiliarity with Google Apps was a reason for slow uptake. By providing the software that everybody is familiar with (Office), Nihon Univ. hopes that students will also use scheduling and address book features.
  4. Reason 3: Students were pirating MS-Office install disks. Office 365 will make that a non-issue. Nihon Univ. chose the A3 plan with Office 365 ProPlus, which means that faculty and students can install Office on 5 PCs per user.
  5. Annual price per faculty is 410 JPY, per student 230 JPY. This ends up being cheaper then when they were using “Google Apps Education Edition” because even when they were using Google, they still needed to buy significant installations of MS Office.

Although we still need more examples to see whether this is a trend or not, I sense strong beginnings.

Cloud is getting cheap

The most powerful allure of Google Apps is the price. For general consumers and for education, the price is free. This was possible because Google had a robust advertising model. By injecting ads in the web user interfaces, Google could justify the cost of providing the service for free.

Historically, Google was uniquely positioned to provide an office suite for free. Other companies could not do this profitably.

However, as technology improved and the hardware required for cloud services dropped in price, it became feasible for companies without a robust advertising model to provide free or very cheap cloud services. This can be witnessed in the recent announcement at Apple’s WWDC 2014. Apple announced that they would be providing CloudKit effectively for free.

We are now at the point that we don’t even need advertising anymore. It has become feasible to provide free or very cheap cloud office suites, even without advertising. Hence anybody can do it. Google no longer has a unique advantage in providing services for free.

Google Apps never became “good enough”

With the cost advantage of Google Apps eroding, the argument for choosing either Google Apps or Office 365 now rests on the benefits that each platform provides. This is something that Google Apps was never designed for.

Since its inception, Google Apps was designed as a simplified version of MS Office that justified its existence by being much cheaper. Although it had some unique collaboration features, it never evolved to become better than MS Office. It was always obvious that if it lost its cost advantage, it would lose out against MS Office.

Looking at the reasons why Office 365 was chosen over Google Apps, it’s very apparent that Office was still an application that both faculty and students needed to use from time to time. Google Apps had never become “good enough” on its own.

Microsoft is changing

Since the costs of providing cloud services had decreased, the only roadblock for Microsoft going aggressive with Office 365 was the possibility of cannibalization. Office 365 could potentially cannibalize sales of their standalone office suite.

A few thing have happened that might have changed their minds.

  1. Adobe has been very successful with their Adobe Creative Cloud.
  2. Microsoft’s new CEO is a cloud guy.

What are the trends?

These are the trends that I think we are beginning to see.

  1. Google’s strength in advertising will no longer be sufficient to maintain an advantage (based on cost) in the cloud. Cloud costs have gone so low that advertising is no longer necessary for a free/low-cost service. Subscription services are proving to be a good business model.
  2. With the price issue becoming less of a concern, competition in the cloud will focus more on features and usability. In established markets, one feature that will continue to be extremely important is compatibility with de-facto standards (both in file-formats and user interface).
  3. As the focus shifts to features and usability, native applications will maintain their advantage against web apps.