Cloud optimize

Google Apps v. Office 365: Head-to-head comparison of features

Ian Hardenburgh compares the core features of Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps to see which one comes out on top and includes a downloadable chart for at-a-glance comparison.

Editor's Note: This post was originally published on May 1, 2012. It has been updated where necessary, along with its associated comparison spreadsheets, to reflect the latest information for both Google Apps and Office 365.

Given the extent of development both Google Apps and Microsoft's Office 365 have gone under recently, or just the sheer volume of features each service now offers, deciding which "office cloud" might be best suited for your small business or enterprise has become an extremely daunting task, abounding with risk. There are a number of factors to consider in order to avoid actually harming an organization's productivity or drowning it in sunk costs and unforeseen expenditures. Furthermore, there are other trade-offs to choosing one service over the other, which go well beyond the basic set of productivity tools each offer -- SLAs, application support, and maybe, especially, user culture and adoption.

To help lessen the apprehension with choosing Google Apps over Office 365, or vice versa, I'll be creating a series of posts that will go over virtually every nook and cranny of each service. Additionally, I'll pit the analogous features against one another in order to describe how one might be better suited for enterprises of small, medium and/or large size, or just explain how one might simply outperform the other. I'll do this by way of a downloadable comparison chart (Excel format), which I'll describe briefly below. You can also find an attached template of the chart that you might want to use/fill-in on your own, conducting your own research. You can also click the thumbnail below, if you just want to view a snapshot of the spreadsheet in a full-size view without downloading anything.

First, we'll look at the most basic office applications, productivity and document management apps.

Productivity applications

The applications that both Google Apps and Office 365 are most known for are their productivity suite apps that include a word processing, presentation, and spreadsheet software. These applications are known as Google Docs under Google Apps, and Office Web Apps under Office 365. Both suites also include some supplementary tools to accompany these core applications that can also be said to have been designed to promote the idea of increased office productivity. For Google Apps, this includes its Form and Drawing applications, while Office 365 offers an online version of its desktop OneNote software.

Seeing to it that probably most enterprise workers spend the majority of their day creating or collaborating upon word processor, presentation, or spreadsheet documents, this is where both Google and Microsoft have placed most of their emphasis in regards to development. For the most part, Google has focused on stripping down what Microsoft has built upon with its Office desktop software for years, by making a simple yet intuitive interface that users of productivity software, like Office, can easily navigate, without much of a learning curve. Microsoft has taken a similar approach, but takes any learning curve completely out of the equation by simply reducing certain parts, or advanced features, of its desktop Office 2010 software. Microsoft's desktop and cloud versions of its office software are almost a spitting image of each other, somewhat analogous to how one may purchase a car. Choosing Office Web Apps is kind of like opting for a cheaper model of the same car, but minus the leather seats, faster engine, sunroof, and other fancy add-ons.

Both productivity suites will get the job done, meaning that 99 percent of the principal work that the majority of enterprise users do can be accomplished with either set of applications. However, for that remaining 1% of work that needs to get done, Google Apps is left behind, simply because Office Web Apps affords users the option of integrating with the desktop equivalent of Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and even OneNote, just in case more advance tasks, like creating VBA programs, is required.

Document management

There is more to just creating documents with productivity applications (e.g., word processors or spreadsheets) than just the applications themselves. There are a number of obligations one has to undertake in order to properly manage documents, and the data or information within them, effectively. Namely, in respect to what's available on Google Apps/Google Docs and Office 365/Office Web Apps, there's the sharing and collaboration of documents with peers, the ability to edit documents offline just in case an Internet connection is lost or unavailable, synchronization amongst cloud and desktop derived documents, document navigation and search, document importing and exporting, and document revisions/versioning.

Most enterprise users work in teams, and not only need to share their documents with teammates, but also collaborate with them upon those documents in real-time. Both Google Apps  and Office 365 have the ability to share, collaborate, or co-author documents in real-time, or in Office 365's case, pseudo real-time. The real difference between the two might be a matter of preference -- where Google Docs documents have a more straightforward approach to sharing and collaboration, Office 365 puts in place a number of mechanisms to prevent two authors from editing the same data at the time. Both can be noted as suitable for even the largest of enterprises though, especially when considering that this kind of technology is rather new, and really not available elsewhere, at least on a wide scale.

Offline editing, document syncing, and importing/exporting of documents are three closely related features as they both are enmeshed with the idea that the user demanding this kind of service, whether it be through Google Docs or Office Web Apps, is probably not intending to fully immerse themselves into the cloud. Both Google Apps and Office 365 have ample means for providing all of these features, but all have their reasons for concern when it comes to the large enterprise.

Document navigation and search might be a set of features formerly taken for granted, given that we all once used some kind of OS-based file managing software like Windows Explorer up until recently, when Internet browsers became necessary to access documents online. Although advances have been made in this territory, most will find that both services are lacking a certain "je ne sais quoi" - fluidity.

Document revision could be known as the act of both storing old copies of the same document with the ability to store a revision on the whim, while versioning takes this routine a step further by giving the author the ability to understand the differences between each version, as with CVS (Concurrent Versioning System). Although both Google Docs and Office Web Apps documents each have sufficient methods in place to keep track of a long history of revisions, any versioning feature is completely missing. This might only be necessary for advanced users, such as developers, but is something that can certainly deepen the argument for moving entirely to the cloud. Furthermore, it could be said that all users need to start using CVS.

Using the charts

The downloadable Excel-format chart is organized as follows:

The feature column merely lists the on-demand service or offering in question. This is not to be confused with actual applications, as they are listed under the columns known as Google App/Service and Office 365.

  • Google App/Service Column: Lists any application or general service associated with the listed Google App feature.
  • Office 365 App/Service Column: Lists any application or general service associated with the listed Office 365 feature.
  • Enterprise Size (Small, Medium and Large) Columns: GA (Google Apps) or 365 (Office) indicates which is appropriate in each environment. May be one or both, and sometimes "Neither."
  • Comparison Column: This column enumerates all of the positives and negatives associated with choosing one cloud service feature/application over the other. This might be in respect to how suitable it is for a particular-size enterprise. But perhaps, more importantly, the takeaway might illustrate how the Google Apps or Office 365 either lives up to what it aims to accomplish or even how one service bests the competition.

Also see:

About

Ian is a manager of business intelligence/analytics for a small cap NYSE traded energy company. He also freelance writes about business and technology, as well as consults SMBs upon Internet marketing strategy.

56 comments
stevecoulthard
stevecoulthard

Google and Microsoft have become almost identical in there offering, it's a email cold war and you just feel like a number when dealing with support. There are alternatives like PostmanMojo or Zimbra. 

jim
jim

Anyone else notice that Microsoft removed On Demand from Office 365 Home Premium without any notice or explanation? 

Captain Afro
Captain Afro

Do not take this article seriously! I am a professional SharePoint Developer and I cannot stress enough how critical to the over all user experience and functionality of Office 365 the SharePoint Online team site and public website. Several of the author's complaints (versioning for example) are answered by the inclusion of SharePoint Online. To be fair, the author does not discuss Google sites either, which I would still view as a mistake. SharePoint is a full featured content management system used by several prominent public websites (www.krogers.com, http://www.hawaiianairlines.com/, http://www.ferrari.com/) as well as large private organizational intranet sites (U.S. Army, etc) I use Office 365 for a small business I support and one of the key features is the public facing website that I am able to apply a custom domain name to. I actually came to this article looking for Google's answer to SharePoint. (google sites apparently)

None of what I said should be construed as a denigration of a Google product. I don't know enough to bash them.

www.linkedin.com/in/whoisidaho/

sawant.nilesh
sawant.nilesh

Thanks man... it is indeed good work..... thanks a lot for this article and comparison... 

maikr
maikr

Thanks for the article and the work you've put into it. It leaves me with a couple of questions... 1) What's your motivation to add OneNote to your comparison as Google doesn't have it? And yes, there are multiple cheaper or even free alternatives in the cloud arena to do the job. 2) Yes, Microsoft has a nice Office suite. Number one in the market... but... there's a price tag and I think a big one (read: disadvantage) when you take also that into consideration. When talking about 'back to basics' (enough for > 80% of the working-force) consider installing Google Chrome and use the free 'installable apps' for offline editing. A mobile app with 'basic' offline capabilities (Google Drive) is also avaliable for Android, iPad , iPhone. 3) Revision and versioning: "Document revision could be known as the act of both storing old copies of the same document with the ability to store a revision on the whim, while versioning takes this routine a step further by giving the author the ability to understand the differences between each version, as with CVS (Concurrent Versioning System). Although both Google Docs and Office Web Apps documents each have sufficient methods in place to keep track of a long history of revisions, any versioning feature is completely missing. This might only be necessary for advanced users, such as developers, but is something that can certainly deepen the argument for moving entirely to the cloud. Furthermore, it could be said that all users need to start using CVS." As far as I know Google has revisions available for all supported formats (so including Microsoft Office files) and there's a sort of integrated versioning/revision solution for there own Google Apps 'format'. Every edit made to a document is stored within a Revision History as described here: http://support.google.com/drive/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=190843 What is it you're missing at this point? Looking forward to your answers and opinion. Thanks. Best regards, Maik

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

countrymen won't either - the reason is the huge cost involved in using ANY online Office system as down here we pay for every MB of upload and download. For me to write a novel via and online word processor would cost me something in the order of $40 or $50 for data transfers to get it to a print ready stage. To do it at home on a program on my PC costs nothing but my time.

mfa
mfa

I guess it's not really a part of Office, but it's a kludge of parts stolen from Office, and desperately in need of competition.

americancold
americancold

Office 365 range of plans are ; Most Expensive = Large Enterprise Plan (E3) Price = 20$/user/month OR 240$ /User/Year Cheapest = Small Enterprise Plan (Exchange Online P1) Price = 4$ /user/month OR 48$ /User/Year Google Apps for Business (straight) = 5$ /User/Month OR 50$ /User/Year Google Vault (Archiving) = 5$ /User/Month OR 50$ /User/Year Price Wise - Compare both for yourself carefully as microsoft have very cheecky, clever, complex and confusing pricing plans.. Beware

G-Hash
G-Hash

Why aren't you taking into account ALL features of Office 365, especially those which don't have comparable GA features? I'm talking about Lync Online - very powerful tool for integrated real-time collaboration

silly_king
silly_king

This is quite possibly the worst feature comparison I've ever read. It's technically inaccurate (as has been pointed out by several people, including myself), the scope misses a ton of features to compare, and reaches no substantive conclusions (which would be wrong anyway, due to previously stated reasons). I hope next year, when Ian hopefully revisits this article, he'll actually update it with something useful to his readers.

bc3tech
bc3tech

In your at-a-glance file... Users using Office 2013 can simultaneously edit a OneNote, Excel, Word doc in either desktop or web and see each others' changes near instantly. I do it all the time. You don't have to "save" for other user to see it.

lrotolo
lrotolo

I can't speak for Google Apps, but SharePoint in Office 365 offers both search & versioning functionality. Personally, I find that the best way to determine which suite is best suited to a company's needs is to have some key users try it themselves and see which works better for the way they work. Office 365 does offer free trials; contact me if you want to find out how to get one. L. R. Quantech Corp.

muto
muto

to me this article reads like many articles on the web today that appear to be legitimate but are actually paid advertisements. i have no idea if techrepublic is being paid by microsoft to 'publish' this biased article but it is either half baked, out of date, or just plain wrong. if one is stuck in the mode of wanting to work locally with ms office products then that can be done with google apps as well. with the use of google drive all the shared and private company files are available when online or not. microsofts recent 'upgade' of office 365 (with such stupid things as now calling your contact list 'people' instead of contacts and an uglier than ever interface) is absurdly complicated and clumsy to use as it tried to be all things for all people. once again microsoft created a product that requires a support staff to run vs. google that a complete novice can set up and configure. the choice is pretty obvious that google's product blows away microsoft day late and dollar short version, but i am sure there are plenty of lemmings that will still follow microsoft.

Treknology
Treknology

I maintain certain documents for another company that are always stored off-line, as neither I nor my "boss" consider the Cloud a secure place to store proprietary information. We have been collaborating on these documents since about 1994. Skype and CrossLoop have made the process much more streamlined because several people can view the "source" screen simultaneously but, as the typographer, I maintain the Master documents secure in the knowledge that no one is going to screw up the formatting or mess up cross-referencing. In creating this post, yes, I'm using an online "editing" box but I'm not committing the entirety of my data storage and some extremely complex cross-linking to someone else's server. Without PGP-class encryption (which means an elaborate electronic key-ring), I'm not entrusting personal or other secure data to the Cloud.

cathyall
cathyall

Great start - thank you!! I would LOVE to see more on the comparison of email clients. I am a long time advanced user of Outlook - I love the filtering and views capabailities in particular. I would LOVE to see a detailed comparison of the 2 - thank you!

barnesc
barnesc

I found this article very lacking in depth. I would like to see more discussion about Enterprise features like language input tools and translation features, context sensitive spell checking, the ability of staff to manage their own mobile devices in the event of a lost or stolen mobile, Video chat across all type of devices and just generally more comparison of how these systems work on mobile devices including iOS and Android. Also what about SHARING and how these systems compare.

Caladan607
Caladan607

I too am getting the 404 error when I try to download the chart.

radleym
radleym

Anyone looking at hosted services should not assume that Microsoft is any more "private" than Google. I was surprised (esp. after the "Scroogled" ads) to find that the terms of service for Hotmail/Outlook mail give Microsoft essentially the same power to scan and use your email and attachments as Google has. Google allows you to adjust some privacy settings. I don't have the experience with MS hosted services to know if they provide that functionality.

pjoshi
pjoshi

Tried again at 9:50 AM EST ... success! zip contains two xlsx files: (i)GAv365_Comparison_revised, & (ii) Google Apps v. Office 365 Comparison Chart Template

pjoshi
pjoshi

404 persists ... 9:46 AM EST.

1000445058
1000445058

the link is not working anymore ? Or what am I doing wrong ? 404 page not found ...

george.gordon
george.gordon

Reply button on posts also seems to be broken (in Firefox).

rlcohen
rlcohen

I get a "404 Page Not Found" error when attempting to view the Excel spreadsheet.

Galaxar
Galaxar

Speaking as a small business owner I strongly disagree that offline access to data is not important. Google fails this. The combination of an Exchange Server + Outlook (or Apple Mail/Calendar/Address Book) is very reassuring. I don't agree with Google's 'Cloud only' approach. Microsoft Wins. Mobility : I need/want to be able access my Email/Calendar/Contacts on phones or tablets seamlessly. A hosted exchange account (Exchange Active Sync) gives me the same convenience as a Gmail account _without_ the privacy issues. I am growing increasingly concerned about preventing privacy 'leakage'. Google I have trusted up to now but if given a choice, I strongly favour having my data hosted in the privacy of a personal MS Exchange server rather than being constantly rummaged through by Google algorithms.. The recent push by Google to incorporate Google+ into everything just further alienates me, a former big Gmail user. Microsoft Wins. File formats : I hate having my data locked up in proprietary formats but since the corporate & government sectors have long since standardised on Office formats I give in and go with that. I have waited decades for some one to come up with a compelling successful alternative but it didn't happen. I recently tried Google Drive (Formerly Google Docs). I was _horrified_ to find that when I uploaded a file it was automatically converted to some proprietary Google format that no off-line software in the world could make sense of. No thanks! Microsoft Wins. Look I hate the big monopolist Microsoft as much as anyone who is old enough to have witness their rapacious business practices for the last 20 odd years but as far as I am concerned Microsoft have a mature product which is suddenly affordable and accessible to mere mortals whereas Google have a nebulous, ever changing, 'not quite there' product which has questionable privacy. My 2c.

Tea.Rollins
Tea.Rollins

I mean, seriously, no version control? SharePoint is best of breed, and SharePoint online packs the same backend framework and extensibility characteristics. Managing and versioning documents is among what it does best. Do some research before you write bunk articles.

kerry.sisler
kerry.sisler

For many enterprises (include local, state, and federal governments and departments), the issue of security (of data, risk, protection, access, hacking, sharing, mining, etc. etc.) is one which has been paid very scant attention to.

mark.gregory
mark.gregory

Microsoft Office includes a very powerful relational database, Access. This is partially available in Office 365 in the form of Access Services - but this specifically removes the relational integrity feature that is at the heart of Microsoft Access. It also has a very high cost of ownership because it requires the use of Sharepoint. Google Docs has no specific database feature. However, Google Spreadsheet does offer a single-table Query facility which partially compensates for this omission. Neither Office 365 nor Google Docs offer anything like the power of the desktop Microsoft Access application. This serious omission could be fixed if the products were extended. Google Docs needs a query, report and form-building frontend to the Google Cloud SQL feature already available in Google App Engine (but not in Google Docs). This is a market opportunity. Microsoft should find a way to integrate Microsoft Access fully into Office 365.

silly_king
silly_king

What, exactly, is the issue with search in SharePoint Online? The search box lets you search content by keyword (e.g. type in "sharepoint" and it'll return all documents that have sharepoint somewhere in the document), metadata/property (e.g. type in title:sharepoint and it'll return all documents that have sharepoint in the title). Includes PDFs, Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote, Text, HTML, etc. documents. Can do people search, constrain search by site, etc... SharePoint Online Versioning: can do major, minor (draft version), require (or not) check-out of documents prior to edit, enter version comments, keep only X number of versions, revert to previous version, etc. the CVS/per file comparison of changes the way dev environments do is target app dependent - for example, Word will be happy to provide version differencing, when required. In my experience, the CSV style versioning is rarely used in a document management world - perhaps in legal situations, but then it's better done inside your authoring software anyway. I hope you take some time to explore the actual implementation of features you're comparing so your readers get the benefit of your experience.

thestoat
thestoat

You stated that neither could do searches based on the documents. Did you know that you can open SharePoint Online libraries in Windows Explorer. Once you do this you have access to all the features included in Windows Explorer including the search functionality. You also stated that you needed to have a licensed copy of the Office product to work off line. This is not entirely accurate. You need a licensed copy to integrate the application directly with the online copy. If you download a copy of the document you can edit it with any application suite able to edit Microsoft document types. This includes a number of free application suites. In addition you can have synchronized copies of libraries on your computer using SharePoint Workspace. In the past Google provided almost exclusively web support for their products if it was not a backend service effecting issue. It is not entirely clear how much has changed from their product information.

silly_king
silly_king

Just so we're clear, are you saying that Google Docs has the same functionality as SharePoint Online? Or, put differently, that Google Docs and SharePoint Online are feature-equivalent?

TNT
TNT

The only major drawback to Google Docs I've found is typefaces. I can't use specialty fonts in my documents and am instead restricted to what Google provides. Much of my research uses Greek and Hebrew words and therefore Google Docs can't produce my manuscripts. Does Office 365 do a better job with this, or is it too handicapped?

allenfalcon
allenfalcon

When you talk about offline editing, you give the advantage to 365, even though you must buy a desktop license of Office, which is costly. I don't see how this is better than owning Office and using Google Drive. The same is true for Document sync, and more. In addition to being able to sync documents of ANY type into Google Drive for Business, several vendors like Adobe have already built products that can access the cloud storage directly. Google Docs ... now Google Drive for Business ... is emerging as a way to create a cloud-based file service. 365 remains Office-centric.

jyates
jyates

I will be interested to see the comparison with IMAP integration between the two. From my experience 365 doesn't do this very well

qhcomputingny
qhcomputingny

Seems like an incomplete article to me, where's your pick of which is better???

americancold
americancold

On request, i can email you the fair complete comparison sheet. If you are Microsoft re seller - I have Excel Sheet that proves Office 365 better than Google Apps :/ Hint: Had to invest 2 weeks to prepare this doc. I felt myself a lawyer, to find small points and showcase them as BIG Deal to prove Guilty a winner. If you are Google re seller - I have Presentation that proves Google Apps best. Hint: I didn't invest much time on it. Truth is truth. If you are potential buyer - I have fair comparison sheet with 100% accuracy and neutrality. Send me your request on email mentioned in Subject line.

mred69
mred69

Sadly, the quality of this article is all too typical of what I see on TechRepublic, CNet & ZDNet. Way too much fluff & drivel from part-time authors earning extra income churning semi-competent crap.

Selena Frye
Selena Frye

It should be fixed now. A tag was getting added after publication with an extra space in it that messed it up. It's now working for me. Sorry for the inconvenience!

atoms
atoms

You make a lot of good points, but Google does provide ways to "liberate" data and in general supports the idea that you own your data and should be able to do whatever you want with it, including using it offline. Take a look at this: http://www.dataliberation.org/google/apps-for-business

tmuhlen
tmuhlen

But you're sadly mistaken to think MS is on your side and has your privacy in mind anymore than the Google. You are also mistaken that Google's document formats are any more proprietary - just because they're different than MS docs? The MS apps only work well with their own proprietary formats and usually on one OS platform or browser. So as the PC dwindles, it is even more important to include the devices, tablets, OPEN standards and other platforms that are necessary for the evolving Internet of Things - revolution . MS is still fighting the documents & Internet battles when everyone else has moved on to devices+cloud - evolution. And those that are flexible enough will be the better choice in the long run.

Ian Hardenburgh
Ian Hardenburgh

I'm not saying that at all. I'd even go as far to say Google Docs/Sites is from Mars and SharePoint Online is from Venus. However, each has there own advantages, and I'll talk about this is in future posts. I'll most likely match up Google Sites w/ SharePoint online.

aidemzo_adanac
aidemzo_adanac

TNT for an alias and you are looking to translate documents into Herbrew, for perhaps an Islamic audience ? If I was the US government I'd say RED FLAG, RED FLAG, but I'm Canadian so you could be a neighbour who moved to Colorado.

Ian Hardenburgh
Ian Hardenburgh

TNT, you might want to checkout the Google Translate API and start a Google App Engine project for this. Shouldn't be too difficult if you like Google Docs. Office 365 is actually offered in Greek, but unfortunately, not Hebrew. However, given the rise of tech in Israel (not to mention MDX for SQL Server), I wouldn't be surprised if support for the language will come shortly.

utahron
utahron

allenfalcon, what you must not realize is that with an E3 plan, only $20/mo, you get 5 copies of Office 2010 Professional to use on different devices. This makes the online versus offline experience the same and seamless. He hasn't even got into the real power of Exchange or SharePoint either.

Ian Hardenburgh
Ian Hardenburgh

The Small/Medium/Large Google Apps/Office 365 Suitable Enterprise Size columns don't specify if one service is better than the other, but rather just states if I feel a feature is appropriate for that size enterprise. Actually, for small and medium enterprises, I might even say that Google Apps is better, because of some of the very reasons you'll suggest. However, when it comes to large enterprises, where certain users may have more advance requirements, Google Apps doesn't make the grade. And even as expensive as Office can be, it makes weight. BTW, you might want to check back over the course of the next couple of weeks for a post I've written on Google Cloud Storage, which is essentially Google Drive's medium-to-large enterprise equivalent service.

Selena Frye
Selena Frye

As stated in the intro, Ian is planning a series of posts that compares the full feature set as well as a breakdown on cost (this post covers only productivity apps/doc mgt) . He does make some calls on specific apps/features in the Notes section of the companion chart, based on the size of the business or enterprise in question.

silly_king
silly_king

Yes, please do. Putting them in the same category is a stretch, IMO - one is a good document management solution, and one just isn't, even though it tries to look like one (which isn't to say that it doesn't have a place or doesn't solve a problem for some people/companies).

lstuart
lstuart

It's only $20/month/user. That adds up in a hurry when your talking about a small business. We struggle with Office 365 while it has some great feature it has a tendency to be flaky. Over the course this last year we have had several email delay issues and Lync servers crashing. The call in support is horrible you have to talk to two people before you ever get to some one that barely speaks English that is going to help you solve your problems.

muto
muto

sure the article says that it will be updated as things evolve, but it is not up to date today and as such is perpetuating incorrect information (to say it nicely). it is a terrible use of the 'voice' that tech republic has to disseminate inaccurate information and an example of how this site has gone down hill.

muto
muto

another pro micro$oft aspect of this article is the absense of the price compare two prcduces for non-profits. google charges $0 per user to non-profits with less than 3,000 users.