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Google Apps v. Office 365 summary: Which is better?

Ian Hardenburgh sums up his research on the Google Apps and Office 365 suites. He has a preference, but it still comes down to individual needs and your number of users.

Editor's Note: This post was originally published in July 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.

Over the course of the last couple of months, in an ongoing series comparing Google Apps and Office 365, I've compared a number of feature groups, which included each service's basic productivity applications, e-mail and messaging, calendar, content and document management, and apps and professional services marketplace line of products. In this wrap-up segment, I'll briefly discuss some patterns that I've discovered in my meticulous (perhaps obsessive) research. Furthermore, for you first time readers, and at the convenience of those readers who've been following along from the start of this series, I've taken the liberty of listing all of the features I've discussed in my previous Google Apps v. Office 365 posts, as well as combined all feature charts that match each and every feature under one single consolidated comparison chart (see link below to Excel-based chart). To see each separate segment, see the links above (in this very paragraph). Even though the feature comparison chart is very detailed, it helps to get a general sense for each feature/service type prior to jumping into all the specifics.

Parting sentiments

Initially, when I first set up my Google Apps/Office 365 comparison chart, I thought it would be most beneficial to talk about each feature in terms of enterprise size, or at least how I thought each feature might be exclusive to enterprises of small, medium and/or large size. To start a discourse about industry and organizational culture would be too difficult to quantify. Therefore, by prohibitively speaking about features in terms of the amount of enterprise users and the types of features certain users might need, I've forgotten to discuss one very important facet-strategy. Without a thoughtful migration or adoption strategy, it doesn't matter which SaaS-based productivity apps service an organization chooses, Google Apps or Office 365, because any ROI/ROE will entirely escape your enterprise. Furthermore, this endeavor you've spent so much time and money on can even face the danger of becoming a sunk cost or leave your IT department in ruin.

When reviewing my Google Apps or Office 365 features and comparison comments, try to think about how each feature might add value to your organization. Yes, there are other considerations, like each service's service-level agreements (which are practically a spitting image of each other, BTW), as well as price. However, if you first think about how Google Apps or Office 365 features might enhance your business, or translate to increased productivity amongst your users, you'll have a distinct advantage when it comes to implementation or migration.

So, which is better?

So at this point, you're probably saying, that's all fine and dandy, but which service is truly the better of the two? Well, I'd have to say Office 365, but only if your organization is prepared to (1) pay a premium (for a truly premium service), (2) take advantage of the advanced set of features noticed with auxiliary services like SharePoint Online, and (3) have the resources to thoroughly train your staff on the on-demand technology (You will have users saying, "Can't I just have Office on my PC like I used to?). Otherwise, the scalability of Google Apps, combined with the applications and professional services that can be gained from its Google Apps Marketplace is a very close second.

Therefore, in my humble opinion, I'd say most enterprises, with the exception of extremely large ones, can be well-served by Google Apps. In increased summation, go with Google Apps if you're a small enterprise and Office 365 if you're a large one. It really is a crapshoot if you have somewhere between several hundred and ten-thousand users (what I consider a medium sized enterprise). Hey wait, I guess comparing Google Apps and Office 365 was simply a matter of enterprise size after all!

Primary comparisons by feature/service type

Basic productivity applications

  • Word Processing
  • Presentation
  • Spreadsheet
  • Other (e.g., Google Apps' Forms; Office 365's OneNote)
  • Sharing & Collaboration
  • Offline Editing
  • Document Sync
  • Document Navigation & Search
  • Import & Export
  • Revision/Versioning

E-mail

  • Space/User allowances : Max number of users, storage space, message sizes, etc.
  • General organization and navigation
  • Filtering, search, e-discovery capabilities
  • Contacts and mailing lists
  • Directory
  • Migration
  • Mobility
  • Desktop client
  • Security
  • Policy and compliance
  • Networking

Messaging

  • Chat/video conferencing
  • SMS/Voice
  • Social

Calendar

  • Organization (navigation, views, etc.)
  • Appointments
  • Invitations
  • (Event) Notification
  • Tasks
  • Sharing
  • (Application) Integration
  • Mobility

Content and document management

  • Document co-authoring/collaboration
  • Document navigation and search
  • Document change alerts
  • Mobile documents
  • Offline document sync
  • Content collaboration and task management
  • Domain sites
  • Social content tools
  • Content data backup

Apps & professional services marketplace

  • CRM and ERP Apps
  • E-mail Marketing and E-commerce Apps
  • Productivity, Calendar/Scheduling and Project Management Apps
  • Administration Apps
  • Migration Services
  • Backup, Security and Integration Services
  • Other Professional Services

The combined Excel chart is very detailed, so for those who prefer a version to save to the desktop and manipulate, you can download it here.  If you prefer to view the snapshot versions of each, they are available in each separate post as linked in the first paragraph.

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.

17 comments
JasonSL
JasonSL

@mprobson said:
"But thanks for forcing Microsoft to come with Office 365 for us"

So true.

If you're a business that's already using MS Office Desktop and plans to continue using it, than Office 365 is a no brainer to use over Google Apps.  With Office 365 Enterprise, the full desktop version is INCLUDED, so basically the money you would have spent on desktop version, you spent on Office 365 Enterprise, now you have everything else for free (Assuming you keep up with Office versions, that expense basically buys you Office 365 Enterprise).

Also, it'll be too long for Google spreadsheet to catch up with Excel in terms of integrating with industry specific softwares (e.g. finance, shipping, auto, healthcare, you name it).  How many software tools you know that can export to Google spreadsheet?  Almost all 3rd party software that involves spreadsheets can export to Excel.

So I believe Office 365 is much stronger than it is weak, when compared with Google Apps.

mprobson
mprobson

Frustratingly I have found that Google has changed the way it works with usual Microsoft applications (e.g. Excel) and has now built in incompatibility with MS, which annoys the heck out of me.

If you want to use Google to share a spreadsheet between users now, to edit it online you have to convert it from an Excel doc to an online Google Sheets spreadsheet (= clumsy) which, from that point forward, can't be opened up locally in Excel - at least not without downloading and converting the file back to Excel (= very clumsy).

In the old days Google used to let you edit in Sheets online, but you could also open up the spreadsheet locally in Excel on your own machine.  You wouldn't be locked into Sheets forever.  You could choose freely how you wanted to edit (online in Sheets or offline in Excel) and it would sync up seamlessly (= nice)

Now Google forces users to convert the doc to Google Sheets if they want to edit online, and from that point forward you can no longer easily edit the doc in Excel unless you convert it back again (= very very clumsy, and not nice for users like are happy with/ used to Excel).

This is a horrible example of Google manufacturing an incompatibility with MS products and, as a result, making their own product significantly worse.

I would avoid Google's product if you think users will 1) want to edit docs online (sometimes they will e.g. where they have a good internet connection, and to avoid file conflicts) but users will 2) still wish to use their familiar MS products when they are offline on a desktop (my experience is that they will).

Google - if you want to be the next to take over the world, you're just going to have to be a bit nicer about it...

(But thanks for forcing Microsoft to come with Office 365 for us)

stelellico
stelellico

Google is now more Apps oriented and its program is more user friendly

ctornell
ctornell

I have been trying to get rid of Msft and their monopolistic aspirations for the last 15 years. Obviously, I am very happy to use Google Apps and although MS365 may have more functions, which you never use, Google Apps is designed for the user and works fantastically.

wwgorman
wwgorman

Since this is a downloaded product I am not sure if my problems are in the download or the installation. After I failed once to get it installed I asked Microsoft to do it. They struck out three times. It was different problems in each case. One Microsoft failure was that they could not get the Analysis Pack installed for Excel. They tried several times, declared everything okay and terminated the connection. Upon stating Excel found the Analysis Pack missing or not functional. My suggested is to use caution here. I am back to Office 2003. Neither Office 2007 or Office 2010 with the third party menu program really worked for me as I was wasting alot of time looking for function redily available in Office 2003.

ygopikrishna
ygopikrishna

I am using Office 365, MS Office 2010 and Google Docs (apps) for three different things. Office 365 for my start up work, MS Office 2010 coupled with share point for my real job and google docs to keep up with personal stuff. Having used all three, MS office 2010 with its new skydrive integration seems to be the winner if you can spend the $$. But if you are in a budget mode, then Office 365 does the trick. It is easy and intuitive to use, if you are fairly competent in using the MS Office software. Nothing wrong with Google Docs (apps), but they don't seem to be easy to use. Disclaimer: I am a MSFT fan, but have used google products from 2004-2010 before, going back to MSFT products.

dhaval001
dhaval001

I would say you will need to provide more training for Google Apps than for Office 365. People are more used to Office and Office 365's UI since they are similar compared to Google Apps where things are completely different. Also, nobody talks about Office Web Apps. Google apps actually competes with Office Web apps technically speaking and Office 365 users have the option of desktop apps. Google Apps don't have a desktop companion. Then add the rich feature set of Office products and Google Apps are dead meat.

Ian Hardenburgh
Ian Hardenburgh

Deadly Ernest, I've never used Libre Office, but you could be right in terms of use of the software as an individual. However, from an enterprise perspective, an organization has a number of financial and operational concerns that goes well beyond individual use. For instance, mobility and co-authoring of documents are big ones. Many of today's enterprises need to be able to reference a document from anywhere, without having to be concerned with moving a file manually in and out of a document share. Financially, a SaaS-based office suite makes a lot of sense, because licensing and support costs are drastically cut, as well as the cost to administrate. Lastly, just because you have software on a PC doesn't mean it is secure. In fact, I'd go as far to say that on average, on-demand services offered by Google and Microsoft are just as if not more secure that a well protected machine. You should read Google Apps' and Office 365's SLA. You'll be surprised at what you find.

wizardb
wizardb

Office 365 and the rest of the cloud craps is the best thing that ever happened to open source office aps I have changed over three very large companies to Libre Office in the last 2 months and at last 10 smaller ones.Companies want their data and aps available to their people 24/7 and as we all know that's not the case with any cloud ap.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

use either. You can get all those services from free open source software, much of it from Libre Office, so why pay either anything at all. Keeping it in house and on your own computers also provides a level of security that you can NEVER get when you go out over the cloud.

rhonin
rhonin

Having "played" with both, from a business perspective we are sticking with onboard 2010 MSOffice. With a significant size travel group, global traveling, this means there are many times when access will not be available for either Google or 365. If you have unfettered access, then you can evaluate and decide.

dtilley
dtilley

A good balanced overview of two services - and I agree, both have a lot to offer. There are plenty of differences between these two platforms, but non are more impactful (in my mind) than the user interface. Viscerally Google's sparse interface is a stark contrast to the traditional MS look and feel. The Outlook Web App feels like the traditional enterprise e-mail, while Google is a much more sparse approach with more of a traditional consumer (i.e. home) interface. Even the light Office Web Apps (Word/Excel/PPT) maintain the look and feel of the traditional thick desktop install - albeit with a reduced feature set.

ditodude
ditodude

I have observed that organizations (SMB and Enterprise) appreciate a Google Apps tool that can resolve any "missing gaps" in functionality. Google Apps has Google Apps Script (or also known as Google Script) a rather simple JavaScript-based tool that integrates well through services and APIs with Google Apps and third-party applications. Recent enhancements announced at Google I/O 2012 makes this tool very attractive from custom spreadsheet functions to powerful web apps. Another consideration is cross-device productivity. Thanks to recent improvements with Chrome an employee can begin a Chrome browser session on one device and pickup where they left off on another device (PC, Mac, tablet or smartphone).

ygopikrishna
ygopikrishna

Just curious as to why you want to get rid of MSFT and their monopolistic aspirations.. At no point in time were they monopolistic in productivity apps space. There was no player that built Word Processors or Spreadsheets as well as MS did from early 90's until 2012. It is a true testament to their success that MS Office is hugely popular on macs too. Of course, it is your personal preference to like whichever app, but to just say that MSFT is bad because they are successful is naivety, IMO.

Ian Hardenburgh
Ian Hardenburgh

That's one of the things I most like about Office 365. It can be traditional for organizations not ready to fully commit to the cloud. Rhonin, I'd suggest purchasing a few plans that can be spread out across select users. Most subscriptions are month-to-month, so the risk factor is relatively low.

Ian Hardenburgh
Ian Hardenburgh

Yes, I tried to touch upon this factor in many of the articles (where applicable). I agree re: Office Web Apps. Definitely no surprises there. However, as a consumer, or in my lifestyle-type document management, I use Google Apps. It has taken some time, but I'm finally starting to get used to it. Furthermore, I'd have to say that Google Apps performs better, mostly in respect to speed.

Ian Hardenburgh
Ian Hardenburgh

Ditodude, have you been reading my articles? You are very smart and offer very good insight!

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