Google Workspace vs Microsoft 365Syah Ismail
When it comes to cloud-based productivity tools in the workplace, you generally have two choices: Google Workspace (formerly known as G Suite) and Microsoft 365 (formerly known as Office 365). Both of them are full-featured productivity suites that help you handle the things you do on a daily basis, like email, cloud storage and creating and sharing documents. Chances are you’ve used at least one of them, if not both but which is best for your organisation?
Google Workspace was designed for the cloud. Microsoft 365 is based on the company’s legacy solution Microsoft Office. Their respective subscription offerings tick all the top-level boxes on your company’s communications and productivity checklist. Each suite includes the following features:
- Business email and shared calendaring services attached to custom domains
- Online storage with shared space for collaboration and a large allotment of personal storage space for each user account
- Productivity apps for creating and collaborating on documents, spreadsheets and presentations
- Corporate communication tools including messaging, online meetings and video conferencing
- A management interface with advanced features such as compliance and archiving for enterprise customers as well as security features including two-factor authentication
- Both of these services are underpinned by a robust, highly reliable cloud infrastructure with data centres worldwide.
How they compare
Both Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace have impressively long feature lists. In fact, the biggest differences between the two services are not whether a particular feature exists but how it’s implemented and invariably that comes down to the difference in style between the two services.
Despite the superficial parity in features, Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 take distinctly different approaches in terms of cloud architecture and app design. Both Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 have the benefit of being familiar to most users. Google Workspace has the familiar look and feel of Gmail while Microsoft 365 builds on the software that many users have known for years.
Google’s approach is cloud-native and browser-centric. The web-based services are identical to the personal tools you are already familiar with including Gmail, Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google Slides. When used with Google’s Chrome browser, those apps support offline storage for emails and documents.
Google typically chooses function over form which sometimes means that its design isn’t quite as pleasing to the eye as Microsoft’s applications. Google Workspace also tends to focus on the core activities that users need most which means it doesn’t suffer from feature bloat as much as Microsoft 365. Google Workspace apps don’t have some of the advanced features you’ll find in Microsoft Word or Excel but it more than makes up for it with a clean, simple interface that just makes sense. Plus, a lot of the bells and whistles that come with Microsoft 365 rarely get used.
From a functionality standpoint, Google Workspace gets the job done with a simple, streamlined and straightforward interface that’s familiar to so many users. Users can focus on getting the work done rather than waste time trying to figure out how to get the work done. Where Microsoft may offer more advanced features, the Google “view” is generally clean and easier to navigate.
Microsoft’s approach builds on its blockbuster Office franchise and the accompanying desktop apps which are now available in Click-to-Run packages that update automatically. The back-end services including Exchange Online, OneDrive for Business, SharePoint Online and Microsoft Teams offer an easy migration path for organisations ready to move their on-premises servers to the cloud. Employees can access those services using familiar desktop apps like Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint or they can use web-based alternatives.
Microsoft 365 has certainly come a long way but there’s no question that it tries to be everything to everyone. Microsoft packs in every feature it can think of, sometimes at the expense of the user experience. This is especially true of the desktop versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The browser and mobile app versions, on the other hand, are far simpler in design and focus more on putting the most important tools within reach.
If you’ve never used either, Google Workspace is a bit less intimidating and more intuitive to get started.
Packages and prices
For a striking demonstration of the difference between Google’s world and Microsoft’s, look no further than the lineup of plans available for purchase.
Google has restructured their plans to cater to SMBs and enterprises. For businesses with fewer than 300 employees, there are three plans to choose from (Business Starter, Business Standard and Business Plus). Big corporations with more than 300 employees can go for enterprise plans.
All Google Workspace plans include:
- Gmail for Business
- Meet (video and voice conferencing)
- Chat (secure messaging)
- Shared calendars
- Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides
- Keep (shared notes)
- Forms (survey builder)
- Sites (website builder)
- Currents (the replacement for Google+ for Google Workspace)
- At least 30GB of cloud file storage (Google Drive)
- Security and administrative controls
Microsoft 365 is available in a dizzying array of permutations: three plans aimed at small businesses (Business Basic, Business Standard, and Business Premium), plus the Microsoft 365 Apps package that includes only the desktop apps and cloud storage; a handful of Office 365 Enterprise plans that haven’t been rebranded; and three Enterprise plans for larger organisations transitioning away from per-machine licensing and on-premises servers.
All Microsoft 365 plans include either a set of cloud-based features or the right to download and install Office desktop apps on up to 15 devices per user (five Windows PCs or Macs, five tablets, and five smartphones) or both.
The collection of desktop apps includes Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote (Access and Publisher are available on Windows PCs only), as well as 1TB or more of storage per user in OneDrive for Business and access to the web-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.
Cloud-based services include the following:
- Exchange Online email hosting with a maximum inbox size of 50 or 100GB
- Web-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook
- A minimum of 1TB of OneDrive for Business file storage per user
- SharePoint Online team sites
- HD video conferencing
- Online meetings (Skype Meeting Broadcast or Microsoft Teams live events)
- Secure messaging and collaboration (Microsoft Teams)
- Security and administrative controls
Confusingly, Microsoft still sells its Office 365 Enterprise plans which don’t include Windows 10 licenses or advanced management tools.
Business email, arguably one of the most valuable features for small businesses, is available with all Google Workspace’s service plans. However, access to business email with Microsoft’s solution is not available with its Basic plan.
It’s difficult to make head-to-head comparisons between the two services, although there are some similarities. Most Microsoft 365 plans cost more than their Google Workspace counterparts because of the inclusion of Office desktop apps.
Google Workspace includes Gmail, the most used free email service in the world, as well as the familiar Google Calendar. Gmail has been a favourite with the general public since being introduced in 2004. It’s familiar, particularly with millennial and Gen Y workers who have been using it personally for years. It’s also known for its simplicity and ease of use. In addition to its popularity, Gmail has been available in the enterprise space since 2006 when Google rolled out the original Google Workspace, “Google Apps.”
Google Workspace provides 30GB of storage. Gmail allows attachments up to 25MB, though you can share files larger than that directly from Google Drive. You can send up to 2,000 emails per day and receive over 86,000 daily.
Microsoft has Exchange Online, optimised for use with the Outlook desktop client. Google has Gmail, optimised for use in the Chrome web browser. Aside from those fundamental architectural differences, the feature set includes just about everything a corporate email administrator would want including anti-malware protection, spam filtering and group aliases.
Google Workspace Business Starter account has a maximum inbox size of 30GB (or less, because that space is shared by the user’s Drive storage). That limitation goes away when you go up the plans. Office 365 mailbox sizes are capped at either 50GB or 100GB, depending on the plan. For Enterprise accounts with archiving turned on, archive mailbox storage is unlimited.
Microsoft’s business email client, Outlook, has a send limit of 5,000 per day and a 50GB storage limit on each of their business plans. This limit is separate from your overall cloud storage, which means your email attachments aren’t taking up space in OneDrive. On the other hand, if email storage space is important, unlike Google Workspace, you aren’t able to use your full cloud storage (1TB) for email.
Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 both include software for creating documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Both offer browser-based versions, as well as iOS and Android apps. However, only Microsoft 365 offers desktop versions of its software to its customers.
All of Google Workspace’s apps for document creation, Docs, Sheets and Slides are browser-based with mobile app versions. Unfortunately, there are no desktop versions, meaning you generally need to be connected to the internet to create and edit files. However, each has the option to mark files for offline access, allowing you to continue working on a file even if you lose your internet connection, updating your changes the next time you connect to the internet.
Google’s productivity apps are designed to work exclusively in a browser or in one of its mobile apps. By contrast, Microsoft 365 includes the latest release of the Office desktop applications (Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote) on Windows PCs and Macs, in addition to web versions of those core apps.
Availability of those Office desktop apps is the killer feature for some organisations. That’s especially true when fidelity with Office document formats is crucial. It’s easy enough to import and export Google Docs and Sheets but Office document features aren’t guaranteed to survive round trips between the two environments.
In organisations where those formats are not a big deal and where a younger workforce has grown up with Gmail and Google Docs, the browser-based interface might be considered a plus. Having been around for over 30 years, most people have at least a passing familiarity with Word, Excel and PowerPoint’s features and user interface.
While Microsoft Word offers users a familiar, longstanding interface, it can be over-complicated and not always intuitive. Many of the Microsoft 365 apps’ most advanced features aren’t used and are unnecessary in most ordinary work situations.
How many of the menus in Word, Excel and PowerPoint have you never opened, or if you have, how many of the features in each menu have you never used? Younger users have grown up with the same Google apps on the consumer side and find Microsoft complicated and have too feature-laden for day-to-day office needs.
OneDrive for Business, once a clunky spinoff from SharePoint, now shares the same sync engine as its consumer counterpart and has matured into a reliable service that’s well integrated with both Microsoft 365 and Windows, although it also works well on Macs and on mobile devices. By default, every OneDrive for Business user gets 1TB of personal cloud file storage; that limit is removed on Enterprise accounts with at least five users. For all account types, the organisation gets 1TB (plus 10GB per user) of SharePoint storage.
As noted earlier, Google Drive storage allocations are shared with Gmail. On Business Starter accounts, that total is 30GB. The limit increases to 2TB on Business Standard accounts and 5TB on Business Plus. Enterprise users get unlimited storage with at least five users. Administrators can control offline access using device policies and can dictate whether users can sync Drive files to computers or mobile devices.
Communication and collaboration
Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 are built around team collaboration. However, both companies employ their own unique approach to facilitating teamwork. Regardless of whether you use Google Workspace or Office 365, you have an assortment of communication and collaboration tools from which to choose.
Both services allow simultaneous editing of documents in the web browser so that people can work as a team on shared projects; for files stored on OneDrive, you can collaborate using the Office desktop apps, as well.
Google has renamed its Google Hangouts apps to Meet (for online meetings, video conferencing, and voice calls) and Chat (which handles simple text chats). Focused on face-to-face interaction and collaboration, Meet integrates effortlessly with the other Google Workspace apps. You can set up meetings and share files using any of your Google Workspace tools, including Gmail and Google Calendar. Meet can support up to 250 participants in a single video conference and also deliver live streaming to up to 100,000 viewers. Google Chat is Google’s answer to instant messaging and features the option for direct messages and group chats. It can be used as a standalone app or integrated into the Gmail layout.
Microsoft 365 accomplishes the same goals with the Microsoft Teams app which replaces Skype for Business and the ancient Lync. The platform has rolled its communications tools and many collaborative features into a single umbrella: Teams. This feature includes chat, threaded conversations, video meetings and conferences and voice calls.
So, who is the winner in this heavyweight battle to own your organisation’s productivity platforms? There are many pros and cons of each, with realistically more positives than negatives for either platform. Ultimately, it is you (the user) who decides which offering is best suited to your needs.
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