In a bid to stanch the flow of Microsoft Office users defecting to Google services, Microsoft unveiled Office 365 today, an online version of its email, word processing and spreadsheet programs. In recent years, Google has been chipping away at Microsoft's software stranglehold by offering free online services such as Gmail, Calendar, Docs and Talk, while offering subscription-based corporate versions for $5 per month. With Office 365, Microsoft is pushing more features for a higher price. Is it worth it? Here's how tech bloggers are contrasting the services.

Working Offline Is Better with 365, writes Andrew Gradwell at The Guardian:

A common misconception about cloud services is that in order to work you need to be online. I agree that this need for connection is a major drawback, and one that Google Apps Premier has in buckets. (You can't even change a Google spreadsheet or document if you're not online...

This is where Microsoft really shines: OWA syncs with your on-premises Outlook. Equally, Office 365 supports the SharePoint Workspace offline tool, meaning you can work on your desktop and then sync with the cloud when you are connected.

365 saves your IT department a lot of hassle, notes Scott Martin at USA Today, noting the program's advantages for businesses:

Office 365... promises to cut costs for companies that can now let the software giant handle all the behind-the-scenes stuff typically handled by information technology departments. That IT function now moves to the cloud. Cloud computing allows people to go online to access software applications and storage that's delivered from a remote location.

Google beats 365 on pricing Office 356 has a pretty complex system for charging individual users and corporations, notes Nick Eaton at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "For companies with fewer than 25 employees, Office 365 will cost $6 per user per month, including email, SharePoint, Lync and extranet. For larger businesses, it will start at $2 per user per month for basic email service, and the full package will be $27 per user per month." On its website, Microsoft has a more detailed listing of its pricing structure. Meanwhile, Google Apps is just $5 per month. 

For mobile, 365 is useless, complains Galen Gruman at InfoWorld:

If you got that ad, you no doubt saw how iPhones, iPads, BlackBerrys, and Android devices (and Macs) were all noted as compatible in the sales pitch for Exchange capabilities. You then saw in the rest of the promo Microsoft touting the rest of Office 365's features' mobile compatibility.

Here's the catch: The Office 365 ad doesn't specifically claim that non-Windows platforms are supported beyond Exchange; it instead switches to the generic word "mobile" in the descriptions of its other capabilities so you infer that it does. Don't be fooled.

Microsoft offers more support than Google, notes Andrew Gradwell at The Guardian: "Most important of all is the free phone administrator support, which has always been a major advantage (and cost) that even BPOS had over Google Apps."

Office is still a half measure though, notes  Gavin Clarke at Channel Register:

Office Web Apps include Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, but what you can do is limited. For instance, macros don't work in the web version of Excel, and Office Web Apps can only open documents on a SharePoint site, meaning the person you're collaborating with must run SharePoint as well.

In a further nudge towards the new, Office 365 won't run on Internet Explorer 6. You'll need IE7, 8 or 9; Safari 4 or later; Firefox 3 or later; or Chrome 3 or later. You can run Windows or Mac OS X. but Linux is not supported.

The cloud was meant to set us free from the shackles of buying, installing, and maintaining software here on earth. But Microsoft has more than $14bn tied up in its earth-bound Office franchise.