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Office 365 vs Google Apps: Which one is best for my organization?

Posted on March 29, 2015
Microsoft 365

With the release of cloud-based Office 365 product, Microsoft has leveled the playing for online productivity tools, previously dominated by Google with its Google Apps. As organizations of all sizes are trying to increase productivity and collaboration and reduce overhead to stay competitive, move to the cloud became a necessity, rather than a choice.

Between 2 dominant platforms, Office 365 vs Google Apps, which one do you choose? When making a decision on behalf of an organization, one should consider a combination of factors (business requirements) that would tip the scale one way or another. Those requirements, as well as the weight of each vary from an organization to an organization, however, I picked on the key features that, in my opinion, would be common to organizations of all types and sizes. They are: Document Management, Office Applications, Email & Calendar and Cost.

Office 365 vs Google Apps – battle of the titans…

Let’s run down the list and expand on each one:

Document Management

While Google Apps has a pretty decent Google Drive file storage and synchronization service, Office 365 includes comparable service called OneDrive for Business plus SharePoint. SharePoint is a robust and mature platform that allows organizations to build team sites, intranet/department sites, libraries to store documents, manage security and share documents externally. It is a Swiss Army knife of Document Management and the main competitors (Google Drive and DropBox) don’t even come close.

To be fair, proper SharePoint setup and configuration are not as straightforward as they would be on Google Drive. SharePoint is not really a “plug and play” solution. Proper configuration and information architecture on how to organize sites and document libraries and metadata are a necessary pre-requisite. However, once all set and done, it would become a far more superior platform for document management and information sharing.

Office 365 is a clear winner in Document Management category, in my opinion. If your organization is serious about consolidating various file shares, DropBox and other repositories, SharePoint is a way to go.

Office Applications

For years, Microsofts’s MS Office Suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) has been the golden standard for office productivity software. However, the license model was pretty restrictive, one had to install it on a given PC or laptop, thus tying the user to a particular computer/location. That changed in 2007, when Google released its own online-only version of Office Productivity Suite (Docs, Sheets, Slides), allowing users to create basic documents in the cloud. The applications were not as powerful as MS Office, but the “available everywhere” appeal was there.

Fast forward to 2011 and Microsoft followed suit by moving MS Office online, bundling it with Office 365 and turning it into a subscription – based software. Moreover, you can now download the MS Office Suite on up to 5 devices.

Office 365 is a clear winner once again, in my opinion. Both Google Apps and MS Office 365 are available online, but there is no match for feature-rich capabilities of MS Office Suite. Word, Excel and PowerPoint have all become household names and standard file types when exchanging information electronically (unless you convert everything to PDF). Furthermore, familiarity aspect comes into play – while look and feel changes all the time, no special training or learning curve is expected – everyone has used them since 1990’s.

Email and Calendar

Google Apps relies on its widely popular Gmail to deliver an email functionality. Microsoft, on another hand, turned the tables by moving its Exchange (Outlook email) service online. Outlook has been the standard for enterprise/corporate email communications since 1997.

Calendar functionality is available in both as well. With Office 365, personal calendar are part of “Outlook Web Apps”. Google Apps has made calendar sharing super-easy.

It is somewhat challenging to choose a winner in this category. In my opinion, it is a tie, but at the end of the day, it really depends on a personal preference.

Cost

This is somewhat of a challenging category to compare. Ceteris paribus (with other things being equal), Google Apps is definitely a cheaper solution. Their plans are straightforward, while Microsoft is constantly changing its pricing model that includes a number of different plans that differ on features, inclusion of functionalities, etc.

Both Google and Microsoft offer great discounts for nonprofits, education institutions and government organizations, even making certain plans free for specific types of organizations that fit specific criteria (i.e. particular nonprofits/charities and educational institutions).

Other services

Both Google and Microsoft offer other auxiliary features/functionalities bundled with their plans.

For example, Microsoft includes Lync (Web Conference Application) that allows organizations to share screens and collaborate during meetings (think GoToMeeting and WebEx). It is slated to be replaced soon by Skype for Business, which is much more user friendly. Microsoft has also made its other productivity applications available as a subscription service (MS Visio and MS Project).

Google, on another hand, includes Google Hangouts (Skype alternative) plus interface to its Google+ Social network.

The Verdict

In my view, Office 365 is a better choice for business and non-profits due to its feature-rich offering, wide user adoption and scalability.

Evolution/history of each factors in: Google started off as more of a personal tool that migrated to business application as it matured. Microsoft, on another hand, established itself as more of a corporate/enterprise standard, which has now become available and affordable to smaller organization, nonprofits and even for personal use.

At the end of the day, each organization should weigh in pros and cons of each suite when it decides to move to the cloud. The decision shall also be based on other “soft” factors, such as personal preference, usability, user adoption, size of an organization and others.