Cloud-Based Office Applications
Copyright 2022, Faulkner Information Services. All
Publication Date: 2202
Report Type: TUTORIAL
Cloud-based office applications are productivity tools hosted by a
service provider. They typically include word processing, spreadsheet, and
presentation products among other tools. These apps are often bundled
together as office suites and are accessed through browser-based
interfaces. Desktop office software remains in wide use, but with the
popularity of Google’s Workspace and Microsoft’s strategic push to make
the cloud version the preferred way to use its market leading suite,
this newer model of distributing software is becoming the de facto
standard for office products.
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One of the liveliest areas of cloud-based computing is that of office
applications, either bundled in suites or sold separately. For years,
Microsoft dominated the office application market. Competitors such as
Google and Zoho used the opportunity to provide an office application
alternative that is entirely Web-based.
|Desktop as a Service Tutorial|
|Virtual Desktop Infrastructure Tutorial|
|Microsoft Office 365 Product|
|Google Cloud Platform Product|
|Zoho Online Applications Product|
|Apache Software Foundation OpenOffice Product|
The current picture finds Microsoft, Google, and other players vigorously
promoting their cloud-based office applications, although those
applications tend to lack some of the features of standard desktop
software. The same is particularly true of office suites designed for
Cloud-hosted office applications are rapidly being adopted by the
enterprise. An organization that considers moving to cloud-based office
apps confronts issues of reliability, storage, and compatibility with
other software. In addition, since cloud-based computing moves the data of
the enterprise outside of its own network, an organization must carefully
evaluate the security risks involved.
Meanwhile, an increasing number of users are bringing their own devices
into the workplace, often using applications of their own choice that may
result in compatibility issues.
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Desktop applications – for word processing, spreadsheets, and similar
core business needs – are joining other software in moving to the
cloud. Cloud-based office suites are examples of software as a
service (SaaS), which is the cloud delivery of applications. (Other
categories include platform as a service (PaaS), development
hosted in the cloud; infrastructure as a service (IaaS), the remote basing
of server and storage resources; and desktop as a service (DaaS), which is
remote access to an individual desktop.)
Office suites are often delivered as bundles of applications, typically
including word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software, and may
also include e-mail, calendars, site building, conferencing, and other
features. (Cloud-based office applications do not need to be bundled in
suites, however; they are sold separately as well.) A more recent
development is the competition for collaborative functionality in cloud
office suites. Web-based applications lend themselves to collaborative
work and document sharing.
Cloud-based desktop software differs not just in the underlying storage
platform, but in the features available to users and the management
demands that administrators require. A comparison between Microsoft 365
and Microsoft’s desktop office software demonstrates these differences.
The cloud-based version offers a wider range of supplementary functions,
such as Teams for collaboration. Many of the features of Teams, such as
chatting and collaborative editing, would not be feasible in a purely
From an IT administrator’s perspective, managing cloud software presents
new challenges. Disparate software must be coordinated. In the past few
years, specialized management products have been released that help with
processes such as authentication, license management, automation, and
reporting.1 And the software is sold via a license, with a
per-user monthly fee. This difference in the cost and licensing structure
is another change in mindset to which IT administrators must adapt.
The growing use of and trust in cloud office software is intertwined with
the development of virtual desktop technology. Also called desktop as a
service (DaaS), this technology enables enterprises to remotely deploy,
configure, and manage traditional desktop software. Users can then access
their software, files, and configurations from any device. DaaS is
now offered by major companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and VMware, among
others. DaaS helps to make office software more portable and creates a
familiarity with desktop portability.
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In a crowded market space, customers – both home and business – have a
wide variety of cloud-based office applications from which to choose, from
industry leaders Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace to freeware options
like WPS Office and LibreOffice.
Microsoft 365 Apps for business
Available for $8.25 per user per month when billed annually, Microsoft
365 Apps for business offers:
- Desktop and mobile versions of Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and
OneNote (plus Access and Publisher for PC only);
- Web versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint;
- File storage and sharing with 1 TB of OneDrive cloud storage; and
- One license that covers fully-installed Office apps on 5 phones, 5
tablets, and 5 PCs or Macs per user.
Other Microsoft 365 bundles, like Business Basic
, provide access to Microsoft Teams and Sharepoint.
- Teams enables instant messaging, audio and video calling, rich online
meetings, and extensive web conferencing.
- SharePoint facilitates information sharing and management on
In terms of business (or enterprise) adoption, Microsoft 365 commands
nearly half the market (47.63%).2
Analyst Robert Giaquinto attributes 365’s dominance to the fact that
“Microsoft software is the most recognizable in the world and easy to use,
which makes it an ideal pick for anyone managing a team. After all, your
employees should already know the basics from school (it’s free for
Google Workspace (formerly G Suite) Business Standard
Available for $12 per user per month, Google Workspace Business Standard
offers 12 standard apps, including:
- Gmail – E-mail service,
- Drive – Cloud storage,
- Meet – Video meetings,
- Calendar – Integrated calendars for teams,
- Chat – Messaging and group collaboration,
- Jamboard – Whiteboard-style visualization capabilities,
- Docs – Word processing for teams,
- Sheets – Spreadsheets for teams,
- Slides – Presentations for teams,
- Keep – Information capture and organization,
- Sites – Team websites, and
- Forms – Surveys and forms
Each user receives 2 TB of cloud storage and support for 150-participant
Included with most Apple devices, iWork features:
- Pages for word processing,
- Numbers for spreadsheets, and
- Keynote for presentations.
Both Numbers and Keynote support the use of Apple Pencil to add diagrams
A free office suite, WPS Office enables users to write, edit, and manage
Writer, Presentation, Spreadsheet, and PDF files.
WPS is compatible with the Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS
operating systems, and supports 47 file formats and 46 languages.
Corel WordPerfect Office Professional
Available for $399.99, WordPerfect Office Professional offers the
- WordPerfect word processor,
- Quattro Pro spreadsheet application,
- Presentations slideshow creator,
- WordPerfect Lightning digital notebook to collect and reuse text and
images from multiple sources,
- Paradox database management system,
- eBook Publisher,
- AfterShot 3 photo-editing and management, and
- Corel MultiCam Capture Lite for video capture and synchronization.
Zoho Workplace Standard
Available for $3 per user per month when billed annually, Zoho Workplace
Professional offers, among other communication and collaboration tool
sets, a fully-featured office suite with:
- Zoho Writer for documents,
- Zoho Sheet for spreadsheets, and
- Zoho Show for presentations.
Unlimited Writer, Sheet, and Show files.
Up to 50 collaborators may contribute to a single document.
Zoho Mail, WorkDrive, Cliq (for workplace collaboration), and Meeting are
Free and open-source, LibreOffice offers
- Writer for word processing,
- Calc for spreadsheets,
- Impress for presentation,
- Draw for vector graphics and flowcharts, and
- Math for formula editing.
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Office software’s move to the cloud is part of a much broader movement and
is a long-term, fundamental evolution across all of IT. The uncertainties,
then, are the following:
- How quickly will the ongoing shift to cloud office software occur?
- What role will traditional desktop installations play in the future?
- Which vendors will lead the market?
Microsoft has a great deal at stake in attempting to dominate the cloud
office software market, but it will not abandon the desktop for the
foreseeable future. In theory this could mean over the long run that
Microsoft might focus less on its traditional signature products as it
attempts to keep pace with developments on the Web. For Google,
reconfiguring its online office suite remains a common occurrence, and the
company has yet to settle on an identity for Workspace.4
Security will continue to be a major question about cloud-based computing.
Virtual servers, often used in server farms, may present more security
vulnerabilities than conventional servers. An additional critical issue for
cloud computing will continue to be its accessibility and reliability.
Internet access can be lost for a short or long period of time, and the
dramatically increasing use of the Internet means that this possibility may
increase even as technical solutions also increase.
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Choosing to Move to the Cloud
Many enterprises standardized on Microsoft Office products long ago, and the
only choice now confronting them is whether to use desktop or cloud
versions. More recently, the factors for and against either choice have
become balanced. Organizations can choose to standardize on either the
desktop or cloud-based approach, or they can use a hybrid approach.5
Factors that tend to push organizations away from cloud applications
include a demand for higher security and a concern about the availability
of high-performance Internet access for remote users. But the security
concerns may be eroding as cloud-based software becomes the default choice
for all but organizations with special concerns.
Choosing between the cloud and desktop approaches based on cost is
difficult, because the differences can be hard to calculate and depend on
factors specific to each customer. Organizations can factor in the life
cycle of desktop software compared with the cost of paying monthly for the
same duration.6 The size of the user base is also a major
factor, as pricing can vary based on the total number of licenses
Selecting a Cloud Office Platform
For organizations that aren’t already heavily invested in Microsoft
platforms, the choice of which cloud office platform to use is also a
pressing decision. Larger organizations are likely to find that the
features of alternative options will not be suitable for enterprise use,
but smaller organizations and those with lesser security demands may view
alternatives as feasible. So for mid- to large-sized enterprises,
Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace are the only viable options at the
moment. Both have strong backend hosting and provide similar features, so
comfort level with the interface is a key decision factor. “[T]he
biggest differences between the two services are not whether a particular
feature exists but how it’s implemented, and invariably that comes down to
the difference in style between the two services,” says security writer Ed
Bott.7 Describing these styles, Bott calls Google’s office
software “cloud-native and browser-centric” while comparing the look and
feel of Office 365 to Microsoft’s traditional desktop software.
A move to cloud computing should never be considered in a vacuum but as
part of the organization’s overall business strategy. This means that
analysis of the business may be as important as product analysis.
In terms of business analysis, analyst Robert Giaquinto stresses both
need and compatibility:
- Need – While small businesses, for example, may need access to
spreadsheet software for finances and inventory, they may not need a
full office suite.
- Compatibility – When choosing a cloud office solution, it might be
wise to consider what customers, suppliers, and business partners are
using to avoid compatibility or interoperability problems.8
Making the Transition to Cloud-Based Office Applications
Office software is used heavily for a variety of critical functions and for
using and accessing core data, so transitioning from office to cloud
software is difficult and potentially risky. There are a many specialized
software tools that can help in this process,9 but planning and
manual work are required too.
Storage issues require particularly close examination. An organization
should evaluate cloud office systems in relation to its own expectations
for using image-rich files, audio, video, its regulatory and security
obligations, advances in Web technology, and its future architecture
including data replication and migration as well as customer and back end
In considering storage on the Web, the obvious advantages of cost and
flexibility bring with them issues of security, integration, and
management control. The enterprise must perform a careful analysis of the
ability of an outside entity to store its data, in particular in view of
legal and regulatory requirements such as HIPAA, the EU’s General Data
Protection Regulation (GDPR), and the California Consumer Privacy Act
(CCPA). Of particular interest is the ability of the cloud
program to audit the condition of stored documents.
Furthermore, proprietary storage systems may restrict an organization’s
ability to connect with other systems in order to share information, or
this may at least become a sizable development issue, particularly since
there are few universally accepted standards for accessing storage on the
Web. One purpose of archiving data is to be able to retrieve it; so the
ease of archival retrieval must be considered. Finally, an autosave
feature should be a prerequisite.
Security issues, particularly those of encryption of the enterprise’s
data, must be examined by experts who have strong familiarity with
encryption keys and similar issues. On the one hand, if a company can
access its data, in theory so can anyone else, and there are many
instances where this has occurred. On the other hand, a cloud vendor may
well be able to supply greater security than the enterprise can provide
using its own in-house resources. The vendor should be required to produce
security specifics, including the overall structure of its security
protection, intrusion detection schema, and alerts and notifications.
The greatest savings in cloud office systems will be realized where
current systems have high costs in administration, training, and
licensing. The greatest security risks will come in organizations that
require near-complete control of the desktop. The greatest expense is
likely to come from licensing agreements that are put into place after the
enterprise has become dependent on the cloud office software. While no
crystal ball can reveal the strategies that vendors may adopt in the
future for increasing revenues, a study of their histories may at least
give some indication of their intentions. It is much easier to embrace a
cloud-based office suite than to back out of it.
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About the Author
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Geoff Keston is the author of more than 250 articles that
help organizations find opportunities in business trends and technology. He
also works directly with clients to develop communications strategies that
improve processes and customer relationships. Mr. Keston has worked as a
project manager for a major technology consulting and services company and
is a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer and a Certified Novell
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