Google vs. Microsoft

More than a year ago, the San Jose City Council was presented with renewing its Microsoft desktop licenses. This can be an expensive line item. We have spent over seven figures in the past for licensing alone on this item.  I thought to myself, and later spoke at the Council meeting, that there is no real competition for this purchase we were about to approve and wondered if we could do better. In the end, we got a government discount from a Microsoft reseller, but it was not truly competitive since Microsoft did not have any competition at City Hall.

Do you remember how Netscape used to sell web browsers? Fast forward, and now, with competition, web browsers are free. So I thought: Why not inject direct competition for our email and Microsoft Office applications?  Google offers free email, calendaring, documents, forms, spreadsheets, presentations, etc., in a Software as a Service (SaaS) model—also called cloud computing.

With competition I think we may get a better price next time we renew. Or we may find a solution where we discover more value.  So outside of price, since Google is free, it’s a good deal (one can pay a small annual subscription for customer support). But there are other attributes as well. 

First, one does not get stuck on old software, since Google is SaaS, which constantly updates the software. As a result, your information technology (IT) team does not have to update the server and the individual computers for upgrades and bug fixes, keeping your internal IT costs down.  Also, an organization is not dependent on the IT person who runs the Microsoft exchange server. In most cases, if the person responsible for this item leaves, then the organization will have big problems. Google makes it much easier to manage, thus the city would not be dependent on a specific IT person.  Google also allows for improved public records act requests by simply searching every email with keywords.

Personally, I enjoy collaboration via Google Apps in being able to share documents in the cloud (no vpn needed) under revision control with others in real time. It also allows the author to share or edit the document. No more going back and forth, sending endless emails with out-of-date revisions of a document.

At our Dec. 14 meeting the City Council approved a 12 month pilot of Google Apps that I initiated. There is no cost or obligation to purchase. We look forward to competition for our city dollars. (I do not own any shares of Google.)


  1. First of all, we saw how trying to be politically correct resulted in the city spending tons of money buying Nortel products instead of Cisco.  Where is Nortel now?, filing for bankruptcy and non-existent as a company.  The city has switches, phones, and other Nortel equipment that is already outdated and unsupported. 

    Secondly, do you understand the idea of cloud computing?  Essentially it is going back to the concept of somewhat dumb terminals with all applications and processing being done at the server level.  This might be a cost savings provided that the “cloud” resides in the server rooms at City Hall.

    However, if the cloud is Google, then you subject all of your data to scrutiny by anybody at Google who has access to the cloud.  Are you going to background check every person at Google who might be able to sniff around the city data?  What about Federal and State Dept. of Justice requirements for the security of data?  Are you going to ignore those in favor of saving a few bucks?  There is a reason China has been holding Google at arm’s length. 

    I commend you for thinking outside of the box Pierre but I would caution you on placing cost savings over common sense.  Many of these things need to be explored slowly and carefully before making the leap.

      • Open, the open source answer to MS Office, is another option, free to download and use but costs may be in configuration and training. It works great and almost exactly mirrors MS Office.

      • Given the allegation by the Chinese that the U.S. government is in bed with Google, it woudn’t surprise me that Google was able to placate critics of their security and receive a kiss on the forehead by some in power.  However, I still would not want a private company having full access to our city government’s data no matter how much cheaper.  Ask any network technician for a foolproof way to protect their computer from harm and they will tell you to unplug the network cable.  No connectivity, no risk. Our critical data needs to be sequestered within the control of city employees who are vetted and trusted not relegated to some faceless Google employee who might just get an itch to snoop.

        I say go with cloud computing just keep the cloud in house.  Competition is good and Microsoft needs to be brought down a notch or two.  However, we can realize cost savings and still maintain data integrity without giving away the keys to the kingdom.

  2. Pierre,

    the solutions you are thinking of google would cost about 50 per month per employee.  the free versions wouldn’t scale and or be available.

    just fyi

  3. This might be classified as one of the eternal, cosmic questions of information technology: centralize or decentralize, make or buy.

    I recall an article I read in ComputerWorld many, many, MANY years ago.

    A sampling of information managers were interviewed to learn their IT strategies and how well they worked.

    Information Manager Number 1:  “I have a totally centralized, single vendor operation.  Everything works together.  When I have a problem, I know exactly who to call and it gets fixed.  IT’S THE SMARTEST THING I’VE EVER DONE!”

    Information Manager Number 2: “I have a highly decentralized, multiple vendor operation.  Vendors compete against each other to offer the best price and best function.  When I have a problem, I call a vendor and he’s on the case pronto.  They live in fear of being thrown out. And I save tons of money.

    Bottom line: you pay your money and you take your choice.

  4. The City of Los Angeles has already switched to Google Apps along with large corporations like Genentech, just to name two out of thousands of clients; all data is encrypted and diversified over all of googles servers around the world; aka if anyone were to try and find someone’s e-mails / or hack it, they would get bits and pieces of code that wouldn’t make any sense.

    Did you know that Bank of America was hacked 3 times in 2010?  Are you going to try and do you banking in-house at your apartment? No, you’re still going to use Bank of America to do your banking because it’s more efficient and safe to store your money there.

    The company I work for just switched to google apps and we’ll probably save around $100k this year is fixed costs associated with managing an e-mail system in house for 150 employees. 

    I can only imagine how much money the city could save by switching; the biggest benefit though is the collaboration software that comes with it- google docs, sites, chat, etc. makes the whole organization work more efficiently-

    and China is holding google at arms length due to the search engine and giving people free access to common information, not because of Google Apps e-mail; Gmail works fine in China- I was just there this past September for the World Expo.

    it’s a no brainer- nice job Pierluigi –

  5. San Jose IT costs and staff increased faster than other departments that city has paid too much for slow, difficult to use, and outdated technology

    ” need some education ” – Needs some education about doing a easy Google search

    “Google in bid for government software business

    (AFP) – Jul 26, 2010

    WASHINGTON — Google made a pitch for more government software business, unveiling a new suite of Internet-hosted calendar, email and other products that meets official US security requirements.

    The Mountain View, California-based Web giant said the latest version of Google applications, or apps, for government had received US government certification under the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA).

    Google program manager Kripa Krishnan said “Google Apps for Government” were the first “cloud,” or Web-based products to receive the FISMA certification, which outlines specific public sector policy and security requirements.

    “This means government customers can move to the cloud with confidence,” Krishnan said in a blog post.

    Google’s move is seen as a direct challenge by the search and advertising titan to Microsoft’s ubiquitous Office spreadsheet, email, calendar and word processing programs.

    Krishnan said Google Apps for Government had been designed with input from current government customers such as the cities of Los Angeles and Orlando and offer “significant cost savings.”

    “With no hardware or software to install and maintain, Google Apps for Government allows agencies to redeploy resources to technology projects core to their mission of serving the public,” the Google program manager said.

    Krishnan said Google Apps for Government will store sensitive information such as email and calendar data “in a segregated system located in the continental United States, exclusively for our government customers.”


    ” SAN FRANCISCO | Mon Jul 26, 2010 5:21pm EDT

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Google Inc released a special version of its Web-based productivity software designed to meet stringent U.S. government security requirements, as the Internet search giant seeks to outmaneuver rivals in the race to provide federal and state agencies with new technology.”

  6. Great job Pierluigi!

    I work for a SaaS company and the previous posters security concerns are completely unfounded for this particular situation. Thousands of government organizations including the entire educational system in Australia are or have already switched over to Google Apps. The cost savings are dramatic not just in licensing fees, but in maintenance, and supporting hardware for employees (Google Apps runs well on anything, including cheap $300 netbooks and $200 nettops). No need for software updates, amazing collaboration capabilities, easy access anywhere including on mobile devices… it is a very compelling value proposition. As the heart and soul of Silicon Valley we should be up to date with these sorts of advancements.

    For other SaaS solutions that you evaluate just make sure to ask about SAS70 Type II compliance (which Google obviously is), ask about data redundancy, uptime guarantee, and ask if they have government case studies or references that you can talk to. In the case of Google Apps, if their security is good enough for military organizations, I’m pretty sure it’s good enough for San Jose.

    Again, great initiative Pierluigi! After you replace MS Office, if you’re interested in doing the same for MS Project let me know and I’ll be happy to help.

    • Josh, If you want a better paying job try and get on the Gravy Train engineered by Chuck Reed. You could be the “IT Technology Advisor” or the “Software Development Liaison” …. The mayor has a host of advisor/liaison positions that all pay six-figure salaries higher than the six-figure salary regular councilmembers pull down. COuncilmembers staff are only pulling down five-figures below $75k.

      Your offer of “help” gets me wondering how the general public and politicians like PLO/mayor and the water bearers at the Merc fell about people with public sector experience ( currently employed or unemployed – retired even) feel about “double-dipping” of this sort. Apparently it is a very very very bad thing when a public safety employee retires then reenters the workplace (public or private) but not so bad when a private sector wage earner takes a second job in the public sector or even closes one chapter in life and enters the public sector.  Seems like a bit of a double standard???

  7. The police department can’t even write reports on their car laptops and transmit them electronically. Everything is still done by hand on hard copy. This is something that was suppose to be upgraded at least 10 years ago. When can we expect this to actually happen?

  8. Pierluigi,

    Why not also do a pilot with Open Office?  While not cloud based, it is a viable alternative to MS-Office.

    • Fair question. Probably should have looked at back in 2004-2005. Open Office still relies on power hungry servers and vpn’s, some cost related to customer support and reliance on internal IT personnel. We really need IT personnel at The City but there are so many other places to spend time like integration of existing city applications, or migration off of home made legacy systems or new web apps that allow for sharing of information internally and externally. Open source in my opinion can become an tool box that allows for customization but once those folks who customize the software bail then the enterprise is stuck.

      • I’m a fan of some level of redundancy and such for worst case scenarios.  I work at a non-profit so have about 6 months of experience using google apps (their preference) and its fine most of the time, but not perfect, especially when working off site using my own laptop and internet connection.  If something happens to connectivity, do you close City Hall for the day, or can people go on working at some level using locally installed software like OpenOffice that would still allow for work to get done even when the cloud is out of reach.

        This same issue came up a few years after the library decided to scrap the card catalog as a redundant waste and then the system was “down” for an extended period and people realized their was no backup plan and the librian had to sort of guess what might be on the shelf by dewey # and walk the patron over to browse for an item.

  9. OO doesn’t require “power hungry servers” or “VPN’s”  It’s a locally run app.

    And Open Source is a dead end? (not your words, just paraphrasing) The whole point of OSS/FOSS is if someone leaves, the source code is there for someone else to take over.  You obviously missed that point.

    If you want to start replacing MS stuff, start where folks won’t notice first, not on the desktop where everyone will see it and scream bloody murder to their supervisors.  That way you have something to backup any claims.  Here’s my list.

    MS file servers / Active Directory > Replace with Samba
    MS web servers / Apache

    Microsoft isn’t the only software evil in the city.  How about we drop that [email protected] Oracle support license?  For $800k a year, there should be an Oracle employee sleeping under your desk full time, but there isn’t.  Any Oracle related apps can be rewritten to use Mysql for $0.50 a line.

    Also, how much do we pay Granius (I think that’s there name) to stream and store city hall meetings?  Look at Ustream or instead.  Right now the city streams in WMV, which isn’t as cross compatible as flash video is.

    • > A webcam for every classroom

      I want to see a webcam in every DMV office and every Post Office so I can show woolly headed liberals how inefficient government “customer service” is.

  10. Thanks for the feedback.
    Open Office does not offer email or calendar today and that is critical in doing an evaluation of Google vs. Microsoft.  Virtual Private Networks are not needed when your sharing in the cloud but are needed with sharing traditional client/server software OR people just shoot emails back and forth and quickly get out of synch.

    Your other ideas may have merit but we need qualified IT personnel to migrate and implement away from Oracle or Granicus to some other application or database.

    On open source, I have found yes you may have the code but the person after you may not have the same skill set or interest and therefore things languish. We talk open source but even ultra creative companies like Apple run on applications from Oracle and SAP that come with hefty annual maintenance bills. But what Apple can do that The City cannot is work over vendors again and again for the best price using competition vs an open government RFP process.

  11. OO doesn’t have email integrated with a calendar, but we’re talking email and calandars, not office suite.  You can buy outlook without buying the entire MS office suite.  There’s other outlook alternatives, such as the one made by Migel De Caza, same guy that made mono (googles for a minute)

    Evolution.. That’s what it is.

    Completely compatible with exchange servers.  Free.  They even have windows/mac versions floating around.

    Going back to what you were saying about OSS stuff though…

    Just because it’s open source, doesn’t mean you need to modify source code.  Apache is a great example of this.  90% of apache users don’t modify any source code.  They do modify the heck out of config files, but that’s about it.

    It’s there if you need it.

    Just a question since you mentioned stock earlier.. I noticed your day job was founded by people who worked at a company bought out by Oracle, and now the new company has a product which (no surprise) runs on oracle. Do you own any Oracle stock?

    • For disclosure on technology topics:
      I voted against the 7 figure cost overrun on the HCM Oracle implementation and voted against the Microsoft renewal.

      I do own less than $10,000 in stock of both Microsoft and Oracle and do not own any stock in Google which is included in the forms that elected officials must file.

      By the way I also own a small amount of shares in San Jose largest employer Cisco Systems.

  12. This is a great idea for all of the reasons you and others have given.

    Since we’re talking software:

    Why can’t I fill out the forms and pay for the fees on-line?  There needs to be a “Pay Fees” button on the top screen of the city web page and pages that require paying a fee, fine or bill.  The on-line bill-pay option(s) is very, very hard to find. 

    Some fee’s (i.e. crime reports) can only be paid for by check,cash or money order.  Is this a legal requirement or can these also be paid with credit cards electronically?

  13. What I see here are a lot of tech fans rushing to jump on the latest goodie while crossing their fingers hoping that Google and the government are being completely honest.  I’m not normally given over to paranoid delusions or conspiracy theories but it occurs to me that when more and more governments and businesses start storing their valuable data with Google, somebody just won’t be able to keep their hand out of the cookie jar.

  14. P.O.:

    How about applying some your zest for technology and efficiency to the manner in which we complete and process reports at SJPD. We still do numerous reports by hand and require face to face hand carry for approvals. Our RW room is a mess, rarely cleaned or maintained. I am guessing that if the SJPD RW room were at City Hall, where citizens could see it, things would be different.

    • Officer X,

      Why not clean it yourself?  Why not require officers to clean up after themselves.  You are certainly paid enough.

      You give certain farm animals a bad name!

      • Miss Piggy,

        Sure, how about I vacuum the carpets, dust, disinfect, take out the trash, clean the computer screens, keyboards, and assure the printers actually work? Is that also now to be included in the job description of a SJPD Officer? Isn’t that what our outsourced janitors should be doing? Take about efficiency. And exactly when is that supposed to occur? Are those cleaning supplies issued out each shift with my shotgun and radio battery? 

        From the outside looking in it so simple for simpletons like you. Thanks for your enlightened opinion.

    • I think some organizations look for a “boil the ocean” solution in they want it do everything. Everything costs a lot of money and even still some will not be happy.

      I think solutions that do a majority of what you want and do not cost a lot should be looked at.

      From what I understand PD needs a database in which you can enter data that is configured to try and match your current paper forms in sequence and content. Pre-configured drop down menus, restrict access to some data for certain users and integration to other law enforcement databases are key.

      The current specs call for a client/server solution that is very expensive and will rely on Federal grants to someday pay for it.  I would be inclined to go a different route and pilot a SaaS solution for a small amount of money and see what users in the field think of it. Worse case they hate it and provide feedback why so we know the objections before purchasing something expensive. 

      Make sense?

      • Pierluigi,

        this would be awsome.  The police could write a report the same way a person orders a happy meal.  Just match the pictures / words with the offense.  They won’t even need to know how spell or write!


        • Miss Piggy,

          Coal in your stocking? Sounds like someone we know received a ticket recently,…just go to traffic school.

        • Miss Piggy,

          “Awsome” is spelled Awesome. You have ordered too many Happy Meals using your matching the picture and words approach. Also, you need to look into capitalization rules and when to apply such.

      • No Pier, it makes no sense, not in the “Heart of Silicon Valley”. This was something that was suppose to have happened at least 10 years ago. The current system of writing reports by hand is grossly inefficient. I know, you were not in office when we were spending money on golf courses, car races, and a half billion dollar city hall, so it is not your problem. I am sorry the solution is “very expensive”. I guess the citizens of San Jose don’t deserve it. What a joke.

    • Officer X,
      Geez, give the heart of silicon valley a break. You mean you don’t like to stand in line behind a line of officers at the end of shift, trying to log onto the 1 or 2 computers actually working in the report writing room, and then keeping your fingers crossed a printer is working to print out a police report. You are right the the report writing room is a huge mess and rarely cleaned. The new outsourced janitorial service seems to have been outsourced right out of the police building.

  15. The numerous problems mentioned with San Jose outdated and expensive sole source software from Microsoft, Oracle and in-house legacy programs requiring expensive annual licenses and rooms in-house expensive programmers recreating the same wheel has been addressed at other government and organizations

    San Jose city government is not unique regardless of what politicians and staff try to tell us and the if not created in San Jose by city staff is the way to higher costs and inefficient systems

    The choice is simple – 1) reduce IT costs , 2) cut more services or 3) layoff people Pick one or someone else will pick for you  

    Taxpayers will not vote for more city taxes and Council increasing city fees will drive more jobs and business to other cities as we have seen year after year especially without redevelopment tax subsidies that California will be taking away if nor abolishing redevelopment

    Reducing costs makes most common sense but City Hall frequently lacks common sense when politics and city management egos are in play