Office in the cloud: Google Apps vs. Office 365

Office in the cloud: Google Apps vs. Office 365

Summary: Can you do all of your office productivity, email and collaboration in the cloud? We examined the latest small-business suites from Google and Microsoft to find out.


The leading cloud-hosted office productivity/collaboration suites are Google Apps and Microsoft's Office 365. Both offer similar hosted email and calendaring options, web-based document editing plus cloud-based storage — and, for business users, the ability to communicate and work collaboratively.

However, there are also major differences between the two suites, so we decided to evaluate each in turn to discover how easy it might be for a business used to desktop productivity tools (such as Microsoft Office) to make the move to the cloud. Here's how we got on.

Google Apps for Business


Simple fixed licence regardless of deployment size
Extensive browser/device support
Everything done from a browser

Users may need to revert to Office for complex documents

Affordable, feature-rich and easy to use, Google Apps for Business ticks the majority of boxes when it comes to abolishing desktop dependence. However, power users may not be able to abandon Office entirely. 


Switching to Google Apps is both quick and easy, with just the one subscription plan to choose from, priced at £3.30 per user per month — or £33/user/year (£2.75/user/month) if you commit to an annual contract — regardless of who you are or what you want to do. Note that, in the UK, if you provide a VAT number you won't be charged VAT, but are advised to include the tax liability when making a return. In US money, the prices are $5/user/month, or $50/user/year ($4.17/user/month) on an annual contract.

For this one fixed subscription you get access to the entire suite of Google applications, including Gmail with a 25GB inbox along with Google Calendar plus Google Docs for word processing, Sheets and Slides. You also get 5GB of Google Drive cloud storage per user plus shared workspaces in the guise of Google Sites — easy-to-build websites that can be put to all manner of purposes — with 10GB of storage for uploaded files.

Google Drive: each user gets 5GB of cloud storage. (Image: Alan Stevens/ZDNet)

Users can be added to and removed from the parent account as required and you can purchase additional Google Drive storage as required. You can also use your own domain name rather than the Google-hosted alternative with a simple automated service to set this up.

The Google Apps dashboard. (Image: Alan Stevens/ZDNet)

Of course you won't want everyone to have the same rights, so access to applications, sharing privileges and other options can be centrally administered, with this and other management tasks achieved through an straightforward browser interface — much like that used throughout the Google Apps suite.

A browser, in fact, is all you really need to use Google Apps and you can use just about any one you like. Chrome is an obvious choice and a must-have if you want offline access to documents, but it's far from essential. We had no problems with either Firefox or Internet Explorer on the desktop, and encountered few issues on tablets or smartphones. Indeed, one of the big selling points of Google Apps is how easy it is to access regardless of what you happen to be using — Windows PC, Apple Mac, Chromebook, Android or Apple iOS device.

Where available, custom apps for consumer versions of Google's cloud services (such as Drive) can also be used with the business product and third-party applications purchased from the Google Apps Marketplace to further enhance the service.

Living with Google Apps
Like many long-time users of Microsoft's desktop products, I had a few concerns about losing my Office comfort blanket. However, the switch to Google's way of working didn't take long and was pretty painless.

The fact that I had used Google Drive and other cloud storage services before helped, plus I knew I would have to convert from Office to Google format in order to edit online. However, rather than converting when uploading documents I was variously prompted to do so when hitting the edit button or it was done for me automatically — an important consideration as unconverted files ate into the 5GB storage allowance, which was very quickly used up. It was similarly quick and easy to convert back again when downloading.

Editing a Word document in Google Apps. (Image: Alan Stevens/ZDNet)

My main tool was the word processor, Google Docs, which I found easy to use, with conversions form Word reasonably accurate if not always perfect. Docs cannot match Word in terms of features — but like most people I only need a subset, and what was on offer proved more than adequate. It did take a while to get used to not having to save every couple of minutes and working out where documents were stored — at least to begin with.

Editing an Excel document in Google Apps. (Image: Alan Stevens/ZDNet)

My spreadsheet requirements are also fairly basic, making Google Sheets another good fit, and the same goes for the Google Slides presentations app. That said, conversions from Office were far from perfect and given the apps' lack of functionality, power users are likely to revert to Excel and PowerPoint on the desktop to meet more exacting needs.

Editing a PowerPoint file in Google Apps. (Image: Alan Stevens/ZDNet)

 On the plus side, I could view (and if necessary make changes to) documents very easily regardless of format — from whatever device was to hand. Sharing with others was also straightforward, whether within my Google Apps domain or outside.

Document sharing options in Google Apps. (Image: Alan Stevens/ZDNet)

The comprehensive email and calendaring tools are another key selling point. Although switching from Outlook to Gmail might be a culture-shock for some, most will have used web-based mail client in some shape or form. Moreover, there's a free plug-in to connect Outlook to Gmail for those unable to live outside the Microsoft bubble.

Am I likely to carry on using Google Apps for Business? Yes — simply because it makes life so much easier when it comes to accessing documents and files regardless of where I am or what computing devices are available. That said, because I'm so familiar with Microsoft's Office applications that I doubt Google will completely wean me away altogether — at least not for the time being.


Topics: Cloud: How to Do SaaS Right, Cloud, Collaboration, Reviews

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  • Easy ... go with the one that won't mine your PI

    If you value your personal information go with Office. No brainer really when you decide Ron that simple pre-requisite.
    • hubivedder the really obvious answer is to go with Google Apps

      and get of the Microsoft tax program for ever.....that's the real choice...........
      Over and Out
      • Give up the MS Tax

        in exchange for your privacy...sounds like a TERRIBLE IDEA!
        • Privacy

          I agree. The privacy policies of Microsoft is a lot stricter than Google services. However, both services are HIPAA compliant and more.

          Both services uses strong encryption to help secure the data over the Internet and maintains the data within the data center securely, so leaks are not a problem. Toyota and Honda can be hosted on Office 365 without leaks or security breeches. Though, nothing is 100% safe, both services are secure.

          My preference is Office 365 for two reasons:
          1. Most people know Microsoft Office 2003/2007/2010/2013.
          2. SharePoint and Exchange is more robust than Google Sites and Google Mail.

          Google Apps is easier though over Office 365, just plug and play. Since I am a tech guy, Office 365 has a lot more to offer. Office 365 is also plug and play, but can be a little confusing for non-tech people who do not understand PowerShell and other custom features of SharePoint and Exchange. Lync, well, it is simply awesome!
    • HyperOffice is a mature alternative

      I thought it was fair to put HyperOffice out for people considering alternatives to Google and Microsoft. While the collaboration space is very crowded, there are very few solutions which offer comprehensive and integrated collaboration environments like Google and Microsoft. HyperOffice is one of the oldest (since 2003) and most mature companies in this space. We've been covered by ZDNet before.

  • Not an objective analysis

    "Google Apps for Business still leads the way"

    This is untrue. Please cite the data which led you to this conclusion.

    "and seems better value"

    This is untrue. Please cite the data which led you to this conclusion.

    "For businesses with little investment or interest in non-Windows devices, Office 365 now looks the better option."

    What does Windows have to do with it, apart from having close to 100% of market share in the desktop/laptop PC segment? Office 365 is also available on Mac, and MS Office Web Apps work in most web browsers -- on any platform including mobile.
    Tim Acheson
    • Reding comprehension...

      Reading comprehension isn't your forte is it? The data is in the article, specifically, he lists pricing differences between the services. You may disagree with his metrics. You may not like his methodology, but it's just obnoxious to pretend that he doesn't include data to back up his argument.
      • So price should be the determining factor?

        Regardless of anything else?

        Just remember most of the time you get what you pay for...
        • I repeat myself..

          Allow me to repeat myself:

          "You may disagree with his metrics. You may not like his methodology, but it's just obnoxious to pretend that he doesn't include data to back up his argument."
      • BS! Do you know any google apps users who only pay that price?

        No there are none. After you add in the handful of other for pay services you have to add to make it useable that come with the offices products the per user price for office is actually cheaper
        Johnny Vegas
        • BS yourself Johnny

          ALL of my customers who use Google Apps end up paying less than $5 per year per month (It actually works out to less than $4.50 Australian per month).

          Please stop the FUD unless you have examples of the services you "have to add" to make it usable?

          I love good comments but yours seems like you're simply hating.
    • The Sleeper?

      Windows is not the prevalent OS. There are more installed Linux OSes than Windows. That is because apart from Apple and RIM just about every mobile OS on the planet is Linux based. MS does not control the ecosystem any more, and Google is shooting for apps that are system agnostic.

      In the long run this will be better for everyone, with open File Systems, easily port-able apps etc. Not the closed ecosystem that MS and Apple are shooting for.
      • Wikipedia sees to say Max OS is more Unix than Linux.

        Not to mention it is now has a full Proprietary EULA.
  • Google Apps are a joke.

    First of all Google apps are not suited for Business. Businesses don't live in a browser. Google apps may work for a one man business.

    Why go for a half-ass solution when the mighty Office365 is available at a very affordable rate and with excellent customer support.?
    • We use google apps in many cases

      In our business.
      The subset of features is good enough in many cases and the way they allow simultaneous editing is absolutely great.
      We use Google basically because they were the first ones having it. I've tried office 365 and as I said before it doesn't feel as good as google apps. Albeit feature wise the only thing I noticed was the lack of a math editor on MS apps - that is only important for a few.

      People still too dependent from the normal office, it's an amazing set of tools, but is also very expensive and i believe 80% of people are using just 20% of the features, but people are just used to use it, it just seems right as using google to make a web search.

      The effort made by MS was a great one, they went from zero to a good set of web tools, but I wonder if they really want people to use them, that could disrupt their current business in a severe way.
      • "Good enough" is a scary standard to set

        especially for business purposes.

        As to 80% of users only using 20% of the features I think you are right, but at the same time those 20% of features are what users expect in any office suite they use.

        I've tried twice to move my workplace from MS-Office to OpenOffice and each time every single user other than myself has moved back. Not because it is familiar or they don't want to change. It was always due to some missing feature or compatability issue. It really doesn't take much to push a user away, unless they are willing to live with "good enough".
        • We have the same issue here...

          GoogleDocs, but people move back to Office because they are lacking some basic features in that mythical 20%. What they do use it for is collaboration, as long as it's simple. They are about to move to GMail - it will be interesting to see how the higher up deal with the lack of features and integration, but move to the cloud you give IMO a lot of convenience items and good UI features. Can you live w/o them time will tell.
        • 20% vs 80%

          You are correct that 80% of users use 20% of the Office features. But that means that 80% of users could use Google Apps and the remaining 20% would use MS Office.

          That is a huge revenue loss for Microsoft. This is the same as PC vs Tablets. Before the tablets, everyone was forced to use a PC. now, most people don't need a PC...
    • YOU are the joke

      And a pathetic one at that.
    • Owlll1net So where are your buddies Loverock Davidson & Todbottom3

      So we can see the complete line of Microsoft shillers fud all in a three serving pread along with the usual toppings?
      Over and Out