Cloud Software vs. Local Software: Strengths, Weaknesses, and Licenses Examined

Cloud Software vs. Local Software: Strengths, Weaknesses, and Licenses Examined

April 22

End-users are steadily moving away from traditional software in favor of the subscription-based applications associated with cloud service models like SaaS. Unlike the restrictive licenses chained to the traditional delivery model, SaaS aims to provide unrivaled flexibility in a package that is affordable and easy to manage. The cost savings are attractive, but they aren’t the only perk that standout.

IBM recently published a global study showcasing the benefits of SaaS adoption beyond cost savings. The study produced the following findings:

  • 61 percent of adopters said it increased collaboration both inside and outside the company.
  • 68 percent of adopters said it improved the customer experience.
  • 72 percent of adopters said it helps in driving better decision making from data and analytics.

With this particular research effort, the point IBM was trying to stress is that SaaS can deliver a competitive edge in addition to the cost savings it’s so well known for. Several compelling cases have been on behalf of cloud software. You might be compelled to start assembling your own case against it if you’ve actually had to use any software in this category. Let’s take a look at two of the most popular cloud software solutions and examine some flaws you rarely hear about.

Office 365

We’ve talked at length about Office 365. If you missed any of those posts, it’s pretty much the cloud equivalent of the handy productivity suite Microsoft Office. While it is user-friendly as advertised, the cloud version lacks the flexibility everyone associates with SaaS, just in a different way. For example, you can’t plug in custom applications that tap into Exchange or enhance existing apps in the suite. You actually have very little control over core configuration because you don’t own it. You’re pretty much stuck with the features that come in your plan, which ups the ante on choosing the right plan.

In addition to being limited in control, more users are coming to discover that Office 365 lacks some of the features they expect in the traditional software. SharePoint business intelligence tools like Dashboards and Scorecard are missing from 365’s SharePoint Online. Also missing are data and record keeping tools that are vital to content management. In this case, the lack of certain features could force you to run out and grab an on-premise version of SharePoint and decide whether you want to pay for both versions. Scenarios like this are behind some companies choosing to avoid 365 altogether. 

Google Apps

Google showed Microsoft that office productivity software could be successfully deployed in the cloud with Google  Apps. This cloud platform makes for a cost effective alternative, but internet dependence is its Achilles’ Heel. Unlike 365, which actually has some offline capabilities, Google Apps needs the internet to function, so if your connection is interrupted or you just don’t have access, you can’t use any of your apps. That connection also impacts performance. With countless people using Google’s servers for document creation, file storage, and multimedia streaming, bandwidth is being gobbled by the lots. What you sometimes get as a result is a very sluggish user experience.

Apart from the general slowness, Google Apps suffers from its fair share of annoyances and minor inconveniences. There are occasionally formatting woes that crop up when trying to convert your uploaded files into web-friendly formats. Or you’ll find yourself having to execute keyboard commands to perform functions that can normally be handled with the click of a mouse. In many ways, cloud apps are essentially scaled back versions of the desktop programs they’re designed to replace. It’s the price we pay for what is at times, very convenient access to our technology.

Desktop Software Innovation

The cloud is thriving, but traditional software still has a lot going for it. Office 2013, specifically, has a new and improved interface, seamless connectivity with Skype, and even better integration with the cloud. The desktop suite has a more modern look with touch-screen friendliness inspired by mobile displays. Since no internet connection is required, Office 2013 is fully available to you offline. As it is with most local software, the experience will be as good as the processor on your desktop can put out.

The licenses aren’t getting more flexible. However, vendors like Microsoft are showing that the future of traditional software may actually lie in its ability to play nice with the cloud while still providing a robust offline experience.

Licensing and Usage

For users, the decision between traditional and cloud software often comes down to price and license flexibility. Microsoft sells its three Office 2013 editions with perpetual licenses. The Home and Business edition is around $200. With this licensing model, you buy the product once, and hopefully get your money’s worth until the next version rolls out a few years later. The trick is that you only get one license per computer. Multiply the cost of that license by number of computers in your network for the projected damage. There is also volume licensing available, which might shave off a few dollars, but you’re still making a nice investment in office productivity.

Cloud software like Office 365 operates on a lease-like plan. You are assured the latest version and pay based on usage needs rather than the cost of a single product. Office 365 is available in a variety of flavors, each tier offering access, features, and resources that support the varying needs of different organizations. Plans start as low as $6.99 a month, which gives you an idea why this model is so attractive. Whether it’s Office 365 or Google Apps, a cloud software subscription gives you access to the tools you need from any capable device. With a connection, they’re always in your pocket.

A report by investment company Siemer & Associates projects that the SaaS market could hit over $21 billion by 2015 and account for nearly 7 percent of growth in the entire tech segment this year. Cloud software is booming, and if numbers like these hold up, it’s going be a sign that all the established downsides are worth the risks.

Photo Credit: Perspecsys Photos via Flickr