TechRepublic ran an article back in July titled “Google Apps v.
Office 365 summary: Which is better?
” The article was the finale of a
series discussing in detail the various features of the two cloud services.

Since then I’ve done some further checking and found some interesting
tidbits about Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365 which may be of use to those
considering these options, or who are merely interested in the subject of
cloud-based applications.

Although this is the “Google in the Enterprise” blog, my role
here isn’t to exhort the benefits of Google Apps over Office 365. In truth, I
find them both excellent products which will probably work just fine for most
companies, but there are a few nuances here and there between them which are
worth analysis.

Key points

With that in mind, here are ten key points about the two
products to help keep you informed.

1. Both offer a similar feature set

When it comes to the programs most office workers use on a daily basis,
both Google Apps and Office 365 each offer fulfilling counterparts with plenty
of collaborative capabilities.

Table A

In some respects they seem like twins. However, I have twin nephews, and
while they may look alike and, to some measure, behave alike, under the surface
they have some very different attributes. Some people love the simplicity of
Gmail while others prefer the familiarity of Outlook. OneNote is a superior
note taking program to Keep due to more advanced capabilities and the way it
integrates with other programs. Corporate customers may be committed to SharePoint
if they have architected specific features to accompany or enhance it. Google
Hangouts are a breeze to get started on Google+ but there seems to be no such
Lync connectivity with (which, frankly, many people have probably never
heard of).

Furthermore, although Office 365 does not include Visio or Project in
any plan, Microsoft provides these programs for online users as part of a paid
subscription. Not everyone needs these tools, but as an IT guy who relies on Visio
almost every day I would greatly suffer the loss of this program from my
arsenal. True, you can get Google Apps add-ons for project management in the Google
Apps Marketplace and Google Docs has a drawing option which can give
you Visio-like capabilities, but those may not meet the specs of those who are
committed to Project or Visio, or who have invested lots of time in files
created by these programs.

2. Office 365 has various versions and prices for different user counts

Google Apps has a quick and easy pricing plan for their
standard Google Apps for Business package: $5 per user per month or $50 per
user per year (there is an advanced plan as well which I’ll discuss next). This
applies whether you’re a company of three or thirty thousand people.

In contrast, Office 365 has a multitude of plans (six as of
September, 2013) which can be both good and bad since it provides flexibility
but also involves some complexity to figure out the best choice. Microsoft’s small
business plans are geared towards 25 users or less and provide a good scale of
features for $5 or $12.50 per user per month (or $60/$150 per year). A midsize
business plan for 300 users or less comes in at $15 per user per month, and
there are hosted email/enterprise plans which cost $4, $8 or $20 per user per
month and include different options.

3. Privacy agreements are different

The difference between the privacy policies used by the two companies
may be the deal-breaker for some customers, so perhaps I should have made this
#1! Microsoft’s
privacy policy
says they will not scan your data or provide information to third
parties. On the other hand Google’s Privacy Policy states they can
use information they collect from you for advertising purposes. In both cases
the government can compel them to provide your data if required. You’ve got to
decide which one fits your company requirements and/or level of comfort.

4. Online storage details vary

When it comes to storage capacity, Office 365 gives users 50GB of space in
Outlook and 25GB in Skydrive. Google Apps provides 30GB of space which is spread
among Gmail, Drive and Picasa
. By comparison, both companies will give freebies;
Google provides 15GB of drive space and Microsoft will give you 7GB. Both
vendors will sell you additional space if needed whether you’re a free or a
business user.

Both Drive and Skydrive integrate with related products by each vendor,
and each offers online document readers so you can view all kinds of files
right in the browser without having to download and open them. Conversely,
neither storage platform offers centralized control of document sharing, which
is curious. Google offers a better search function tied into Drive; there is no
full-text search in Skydrive. Microsoft backs up your data; Google Apps does
not do so by default (but you can recover previous versions of files).

Back in May I wrote about some Google Drive
which produced synchronization headaches that ruled out the use of
Google Drive for me. I haven’t had the opportunity to circle around and test it
out to see if Google has resolved the issue, but I will say that I tested
Skydrive at the same time and found absolutely no problems with it.

5. Both provide dashboards showing the status of online services

If you’re going to saddle up with a cloud provider for your company’s applications,
you’re going to have to get up-to-the-minute status updates for outages so you
can keep tabs on how your environment is working.

Microsoft provides a Service Health Dashboard which shows the status of
Microsoft Online Services, but it is only available to paying customers meaning
you need to buy before you try. Google provides an Apps Status
to the public which shows operational statistics for Google Services as
well as Analytics, Maps, Voice and Blogger. I was able to view information
covering the past two months including a Gmail outage on 8/16, for instance. If
you’re already an Office 365 subscriber it’s not a big deal since you’ll have
access to the same information from Microsoft which Google provides to anyone,
but it’s worth noting that if you’re still on the fence with your wallet in
your pocket Microsoft outage data won’t be available (though reports of Office
and Google outages reach the public ears anyway, of course).

6. Both offer a form of email archiving/e-discovery

Email archiving is a popular feature. I never even heard of e-discovery
until a few years ago, but it has exploded into a popular (or at the very least
necessary) process as of late. Many companies have a need for one or both
features and these are provided by Google and Microsoft via their “Google
Apps for Vault” and “Office 365 Enterprise E3” plans.

Google Apps for Vault is the advanced plan I referred to above and costs
$10 per user per month (no discount for a year’s subscription is provided). Microsoft’s
Office 365 Enterprise E3 plan offers the same for $20 per user per month, but
you also get hosted voicemail support and business intelligence features which
may justify the $10 increase over Google’s plan.  

7. Office 365 provides desktop apps

Some Office 365 plans include desktop apps such as Word, Excel, etc. to
help round off the suite, giving customers both the thick clients and the
browser-based versions. Google Apps is entirely browser-based so there is no
such desktop program counterpart. However, you can use Docs, Sheets
and Slides offline
in Chrome, although changes need to be made in the Admin Console and on
the user side to permit this. You can also install an add-on for Chrome to let
you work in Gmail
while offline

8. Excel may be better than Sheets for certain users

There is a perception among many that Google Sheets can’t compare to the
powerful features and formulas of Microsoft Excel. For companies which live by
(and in) Excel, this can be a serious consideration, especially if they rely on
Excel gurus with years of training and experience (though of course any good
professional can transfer their experience with one product to that of a
similar product, so long as the options are present).

David Politis of Bettercloud raised some good points about Google Sheets
functionality in his TechRepublic column last year titled “Five Google
Spreadsheet features to help kick your Excel addiction
.”  Mr. Politis stated: “Google Spreadsheets
is often cast in a negative light, with many claiming the tool isn’t as
powerful as its primary competitor, Excel… however, several updates made in the
past few months combined with the Google Spreadsheets’ hundreds of functions
and ability to derive information from other Google products like Search and
Finance have leveled the playing field.”

However, there are still some features offered by Excel which companies
might need to rely on. For instance, in-depth detailed formulas might not carry
over well to Sheets. Furthermore, Google limits Sheets to
400,000 cells
, compared with 17 billion in Excel.

9. There’s an interesting tradeoff on unused features vs. familiarity

This is more of a philosophical comparison, but I think it will hold
valid for many readers. Office 365 has the advantage for plenty of users who
have been familiar with Word, Excel and the rest of the gang for years; there
is less of a learning curve than with Google Apps if the latter represents a
brand new experience.

However, it’s also true that Office is notorious for being loaded with
complex, unused features which can cause confusion, so the familiarity many
will embrace also comes with something of a price, especially if companies are
paying for advanced packages not all employees will use. By contrast, Google
Apps programs are fairly easy to learn and intuitive, but may feel too awkward
for those who are hard-coded to work in Office.

10. Both have app marketplaces

The beauty of cloud-based environments is that they can be customized
depending on company needs, new advances and administrator skill sets. With
that in mind, both Google and Microsoft offer add-ons through a centralized
marketplace. The Microsoft Office
365 Marketplace
is quite comparable to the Google Apps
both feature professional services as well as applications you can use to
enhance your platform.

In Conclusion

There are plenty of other
features and categories which are similar or different between Google Apps and
Office 365, of course – mobile apps and connectivity, document sharing, instant
messenger tie-ins, and dozens of other topics. The field is always changing as
each vendor updates and improves their services, so if you’re in the market for
online productivity apps I recommend you keep an eye on the Google Apps and Office 365 product pages to stay as current as possible – and
read independent reviews as often as possible.