When you think about the Mount Rushmore of software products, few will disagree that Microsoft Office belongs there. Microsoft Office sets the standard with its suite of business productivity applications, and G Suite (Google Apps) tries to follow its footsteps. We take a look this week at Office vs Google Apps, keeping in mind that competitivity breeds better service.
It’s not often that a piece of software changes the trajectory of the industry. Netscape did it when they released the Navigator browser in 1994, just as the web was about to explode into the mainstream. Lotus Notes did it when they brought collaboration to the enterprise a few years earlier. And then Napster came along in 1999 and shook up the music industry so vigorously that some wonder if it will ever fully recover.
How Office 365 Changed Software Development
But it was Microsoft’s decision to bundle a handful of applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) that changed the landscape of how software was developed and sold. WordPerfect was the most popular word processor for many years, having released versions on MS-DOS that became the standard in business. When Microsoft released their first version of the Windows operating systems, WordPerfect was slow to release WordPerfect on Windows because they were so dominant on MS-DOS. That decision would prove to be fatal. Microsoft saw an opportunity and released a version of Word for Windows. It was slow and buggy, but it ran on Windows.
A lot of CEOs might have been content to let their products go head-to-head with their competition. But not the shrewd businessman, and CEO of Microsoft, Bill Gates. He not only beat WordPerfect to the Windows platform with Word, but he decided to up the ante by bundling Word, Excel and PowerPoint to make the Office Suite of applications. It was a brilliant move. Before long, Microsoft had captured over 90% of the office applications market, and it still used by billions of people today. Office 365, the business productivity suite, now has 23+ million users, according to Microsoft’s financial results press release.
But in the same way that Microsoft caught WordPerfect by surprise during a platform change, a similar situation is playing out with Google coming after Microsoft with its online suite of applications called Google Docs.
Office vs Google Apps (G Suite): Users Decide Who Wins The Match
This week I’d like to take a look at Office vs Google Apps. In typical Google fashion, Docs started out as anything by a competitor to Office. But over the years, Google has added features and and integrated it with some of their more popular products like GMail and Drive. Google has also taken the approach of pricing their products aggressively. This will force Microsoft to pay attention. Office has been their most profitable product line for many years.
This isn’t going to be a review where I line up all the features of both products, determine which one has the highest number, and declare a winner.
I don’t feel that approach would be very helpful. I don’t believe people select software based on the sheer number of features. Most users have a handful of pet features they won’t do without. For example, if you spend your day creating pivot tables, I doubt there’s anything I can say to talk you out of using Microsoft Excel. I have a client that relies on the collaboration features of Google Docs, and no amount of complaining is going to get them to switch.
I’m going to make a number of recommendations based on how I have used both products. Each day, I bounce in and out of both products which allows me to see where each of them feel most at home. I’ve purchased Office for a number of years and currently subscribe to Office 365. I also pay for Google Apps for Work. It might sound odd that I pay for both products, but I find value in using both. I work with a number of clients who prefer one over the other, and they often introduce me to a new way of using Office or Docs. With that long introduction, let’s take a look at the Office vs G Suite (Google Apps) comparison.
Microsoft Office 365 Basics
Office is comprised of a number of programs which varies based on the version you select. Office 365 for Business is the most popular version Microsoft offers. It includes:
- Outlook (email client & manager);
- Word (editing program with collaborative features);
- Excel (comprehensive spreadsheets);
- Publisher (publications editor);
- OneNote plus (note-taking with multi-user collaboration);
- OneDrive Storage (1TB);
- Mobile version of each app;
- $99 (Home Yearly Subscription).
- $9,99/month (Subscription Option).
Microsoft offers less expensive options for Students as well as versions that can be installed on up to five computers. I spent at least an hour going through all the options before I found the version that best fit my needs, so plan accordingly.
Microsoft will also host your email through Exchange Online that’s comparable to Gmail along with Skype for video conferencing. There’s no doubt that Office nails the basics. Microsoft has been polishing these apps for several decades, and it shows. I use Excel each day and PowerPoint a few times a month. I used to find both products a bit overwhelming. But Microsoft now includes templates for so many scenarios that it’s easy to get started creating a sales report in Excel or marketing plan in PowerPoint. Microsoft has put a lot of work into making each product more approachable to regular users.
Templates found in Office applications are plentiful and helpful
Google Apps For Work Basics
Google Apps pricing plans revolve around storage needs for email and Google Vault archiving service. Some of the core apps are:
- Sites (simple website building and hosting);
- Google Calendar (shared calendars, setting up meetings);
- Google Drive (file repository);
- Sheets (spreadsheets that can be exported as .xlsl files);
- Google Docs (document collaboration with real-time user updates of who’s editing);
- 1TB of free storage per user, if you have 4 users or less in the company.
- $5/user/month or $50/user/year (Google Apps for Work);
- $10/user/month (Google Apps Unlimited, with unlimited storage and Google Vault);
If you’re used to Office products, the Google equivalents will probably feel simplified and scaled down. Maybe even bland. And that’s exactly what Google wants in a product that runs within a web browser. Most Office customers install each product to their local drive. This means the products contain more features, but add a layer of complexity. Google also has added features, but not at the expense of complexity.
If you spend your day doing word processing, spreadsheets and creating slide decks, you will be happy with Office. Word, Excel and PowerPoint are the standards by which everyone else is judged, and Microsoft shows no signs of relinquishing their hold in these markets. Google Docs does the job, but doesn’t include nearly as many helpful templates or functionality as Office. Microsoft still holds a big advantage when it comes to nailing the basics of an office suite.
Smooth Collaboration, Google Apps’ Strength
We’ve all been the recipient of a Word document that’s been marked up by several coworkers and then emailed around the office. Old habits die hard. And while Microsoft has added a number of advanced collaboration features to Office, they still aren’t quite as easy to use at those found in Docs. I believe some of this is the nature of working within a program like Word. Microsoft allows the user to save documents locally or to OneDrive to share and/or collaborate with others. I find it easy to forget where I saved my document. Yet, when I’m in Google Docs, I know the work I’m doing is being saved to the cloud, don’t give a moment’s notice to where I’ve saved a document.
Sharing Office docs is just more complicated than sharing in Google Docs, and for this reason, I find myself using Docs when I know I’m going to be collaborating on a project with coworkers or clients. With Docs, I don’t have to worry whether or not the person on the other end has Office installed. I don’t have to mess around with versions or think about where I saved my documents.
If you collaborate with people outside your office, or if you need to edit documents on your tablet or phone, I find using Docs to be a better experience. If I use advanced features, I’ll go with Office. I know I can create pivot tables in Google Sheets, but I find them much easier to edit in Excel, so there are times when I will use Office to collaborate. But I default to Google Docs.
Google+, The Odd Bird of The Bunch
Google handles the basics and has products that fill most of the same needs as Office, while including Hangouts for video conferencing as well as an online calendar and, of course, GMail. The only product that feels out of place here is Google+, which many people have never used. Google+ was Google’s attempt to build their own social network and Facebook competitor. Google has promoted this network aggresively. Its early versions included a forced integration for some of its other services, like Gmail and YouTube. That may have alienated some users. A number of tech bloggers embraced the new platform, but not enough that it gained traction within the mainstream.
Today, Google+ feels more like an online business directory which is about as useful as that hard copy of the Yellow Pages found in your driveway.
Office vs Google Apps Mobile Performance
For many years, I wondered if Microsoft would ever get around to releasing Office apps on iOS and Android, and it looked like it was never going to happen when Steve Ballmer was CEO. But something changed under new CEO, Satya Nadella, because Microsoft has released a brilliant set of apps for both mobile platforms. They are so well crafted I wonder if they had been under wraps for years and were just waiting for a CEO to give them the green light.
The mobile versions of Office include many of the most used features found in the desktop versions. Of course, not every feature is going to make it into a small app. Nor would you want to perform many tasks on a phone or tablet, but it feels Microsoft has found the right balance. Their weak link used to be a decent mobile mail program but they fixed that last year with the release of Outlook. It’s a fantastic email program that works with POP/IMAP/Exchange as well as GMail and a few online email providers. My favorite feature is how well it integrates with your calendar whether you’re using GMail or Exchange.
Google Drive on iOS puts all your documents in one place
Google has taken a different approach to mobile. Instead of creating stand-alone apps, Google allows the user to access all documents from the Google Drive app. This setup seemed confusing at first. Probably because I was used to the “separate app for a separate task” way of working. With Google Apps, anything you can do from your desktop PC can be done on your mobile phone or tablet. You’re doing all work on the web and within the constraints of a browser.
Office 365 For Mobile Sees The Bigger Picture
Both approaches work well, and I use both the Office and Google Drive apps on my iPhone each day. If the document contains a lot of formatting, I’ve found that Office does a better job maintaining it across all my devices. It seems like Google should do a better job at this, but I’ve run into a few instances where the formatting changed when I moved to my phone.
If you live in email on your phone both Outlook and GMail work well. I personally like the Google Inbox app on iOS, but it means I have to use a separate app called Google Calendar to see my schedule. Both apps are well built, but I wish I could access both from a single app like I can do with Outlook.
Office vs Google Apps (G Suite) Round-up
For those looking for Office vs Google Apps advice, here’s my conclusion. I’ve found room in my workflow for both Microsoft Office and Google Docs. I spend more time in Office because of its polished applications and advanced features. If I’m presenting something to a client, I’m usually going to create it in Office. Microsoft has been doing office suites for decades and it shows. The Office mobile apps are a pleasure to use as well. If you find yourself making a lot of edits on your phone or tablet, you’ll appreciate the formatting fidelity and advanced editing tools which you just can’t get with Google Docs.
Google Docs workes well when you create moderately simple documents with a high level of collaboration. Docs was born and raised on the web, and working from your browser is seamless. I love never having to worry about saving my documents. Everything is in one place. Google does provide a way to work on documents offline for those times you are without an internet connection. I’ve never found a reason to use it.
If your needs are simple, give Google Docs a try. It might be all you need. But at $99 for a year of the very best-of-breed office applications, Microsoft delivers with Office 365. Here’s hoping our Office vs Google Apps round-up gives you enough data to make a decision.