Both Microsoft and Google would like to be your one-stop shop for business productivity software. Their respective subscription offerings, Office 365 and G Suite, 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 centers worldwide. (And if the G Suite brand doesn't ring a bell, maybe you know the service by its former name, Google Apps. The name change was effective in 2016.)
The two companies dominate the market for enterprise productivity software, with a handful of much smaller competitors, including Zoho Workplace, far behind.
Despite the superficial parity in features, Office 365 and G Suite take distinctly different approaches in terms of cloud architecture and app design. For many, the choice comes down to which of those approaches fits best with your installed base of hardware.
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, and SharePoint Online, offer an easy migration path for organizations ready to move their on-premises servers to the cloud. Employees can access those services using familiar Office desktop programs like Outlook, Word, and Excel, or they can use web-based alternatives.
By contrast, Google's approach is cloud-native and browser-centric. The web-based tools are identical to those your employees are already familiar with, including Gmail, Google Drive, Google Docs, and Google Sheets. When used with Google's Chrome browser, those apps support offline storage of email and documents
Both services include web-based management consoles that are designed for mid-sized business and larger. Those management tools can be intimidating in smaller businesses that don't have a full-time IT department. For those scenarios, working with a reseller who's been certified as an Office 365 or G Suite specialist is usually the best option.
Note that this guide covers Office 365 Business and Enterprise plans, as well as Microsoft 365 offerings that include those plans. This guide does not cover Microsoft's Office 365 Home and Personal options, which lack support for custom domains and are managed by individuals rather than organizations.
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, true to its keep-it-simple roots, has three and only three G Suite plans: Basic ($6 per user per month), Business ($12 per user per month), and Enterprise ($25 per user per month).
Office 365, by contrast, is available in a dizzying array of permutations: three plans aimed at small businesses (Business Essentials, Business, and Business Premium); four Enterprise plans for larger organizations transitioning away from per-machine licensing and on-premises servers; and as a part of Microsoft 365 Business and Enterprise plans. There are separate Office 365 plans for educational institutions, US government agencies, and nonprofit organizations, as well as a stripped-down F1 plan for "firstline workers."
Monthly per-user prices for Office 365 plans range from $4 to $35 per user per month. And if none of those plans suit your needs, you can mix and match individual services to create a custom plan.
It's difficult to make head-to-head comparisons between the two services, although there are some similarities. Most Office 365 plans cost more than their G Suite counterparts because of the inclusion of Office desktop apps, a feature that adds about $8 a month to the per-user subscription fee. The $12-a-month G Suite Business plan, for example, matches most of the cloud- and browser-based features of Office 365 Enterprise E3, which costs $20 a month and includes the full collection of Office desktop apps.
All G Suite plans include:
- Gmail for Business
- Video and voice conferencing (Hangouts Meet)
- Secure messaging (Hangouts Chat)
- Shared calendars
- Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides
- At least 30GB of cloud file storage (Google Drive)
- Security and administrative controls
G Suite Business and Enterprise plans add cloud search, archiving, and eDiscovery options, and the ability to limit user access by geographic regions, among other features.
Table 1: G Suite plans at a glance
|Plan||Price per user/month||At a glance|
|G Suite Basic||$6||Aimed at very small businesses, this plan includes Gmail with a custom domain along with the web-based Google productivity apps. Cloud storage is limited to 30GB per user, shared across Drive and Gmail. Billing is monthly, and you can add and remove licenses at any time.|
|G Suite Business||$12||This plan adds enhanced security and administration controls, as well as archiving and eDiscovery features. Personal storage space is 1TB per user, with unlimited personal Drive storage for organizations with more than five subscribers. Team Drives allow groups of employees to share documents.|
|G Suite Enterprise||$25||For the significant per-user price increase, you get enhanced security features such as S/MIME encryption and support for hardware-based security keys. In addition, organizations can lock down shared files and scan email and images to detect leaks of confidential or sensitive data.|
All Office 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, and PowerPoint (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, and PowerPoint.
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
Business plans include basic customer relation software (Outlook Customer Manager), as well as Microsoft Invoicing, Microsoft Bookings, and MileIQ software.
Enterprise plans include team-based task management software (Microsoft Planner), additional collaboration software (Yammer), and advanced features such as eDiscovery, email retention policies, Exchange Online Advanced Threat Protection, and free deployment support on purchases of 150 seats or more.
Table 2: Office 365 plans at a glance
|Plan||Price per user/month (1)||At a glance|
|Office 365 Business Essentials||$5||If you're looking for an alternative to G Suite Basic, you've found it. You get business email, 1TB of OneDrive for Business storage, and web versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook, without desktop apps. SharePoint and Microsoft Teams support are included.|
|Office 365 Business||$8.25||This plan is for smaller organizations that use Microsoft Office but don't need Microsoft's business email. It includes the full Click-to-Run collection of desktop programs plus a minimum of 1TB of OneDrive for Business storage per user, but it does not include SharePoint or Microsoft Teams support.|
|Office 365 Business Premium||$12.50||Consider this a combination of the two previous Business plans, with all the cloud features, plus the latest Office desktop programs. This edition also includes small-biz tools like Outlook Customer Manager and Microsoft Invoicing. All three Business plans are limited to 300 users per organization.|
|Office 365 ProPlus||$12||Larger organizations (more than 300 seats) can use this plan to replace existing perpetual Office licenses with Office 365 desktop apps. For organizations with more than five users, it includes unlimited OneDrive for Business storage.|
|Office 365 Enterprise E1||$8||The entry-level Enterprise plan offers all the common cloud services, with a 50GB mailbox and 1TB of OneDrive for Business storage per user. It does not include desktop apps.|
|Office 365 Enterprise E3||$20||This plan includes the same cloud services as the E1 offering, with the addition of Office desktop programs. Maximum mailbox size increases to 100GB per user, and OneDrive storage is unlimited. Administrators also get eDiscovery features.|
|Office 365 Enterprise E5||$35||At the top of the line, this plan includes all E3 features and adds advanced security features such as eDiscovery, Exchange Online Advanced Threat Protection, and Office 365 Cloud App Security. It also supports unified communications plans that integrate with conventional phone systems.|
(1) Monthly prices shown in this table require an annual commitment; month-to-month prices are higher.
How they compare
Both Office 365 and G Suite 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.
Microsoft has Exchange Online, optimized for use with the Outlook desktop client. Google has Gmail, optimized for use in the Chrome web browser and on mobile apps. 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.
G Suite Basic accounts have a maximum inbox size of 30GB (or less, because that space is shared by the user's Drive storage). That limitation goes away with the G Suite Business and Enterprise plans. Office 365 mailbox sizes are capped at either 50GB or 100GB, depending on the plan.
Google's flagship productivity apps are designed to work exclusively in a browser or in one of its mobile apps. By contrast, the most popular Office 365 plans include the latest release of the Office desktop applications (Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) on Windows PCs and Macs, in addition to increasingly full-featured web versions of those core apps.
Availability of those Office desktop apps is the killer feature for some organizations. 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 organizations 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.
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 Office 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 organization gets 1TB (plus 10GB per user) of SharePoint storage.
As noted earlier, Google Drive storage allocations are shared with Gmail. On Basic accounts, that total is 30GB. The limit increases to 1TB on upgraded accounts and is unlimited for G Suite Business and Enterprise plans 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
Regardless of whether you use G Suite 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 Office 365 files stored on OneDrive, you can collaborate using the Office desktop apps, as well.
G Suite uses two flavors of Google Hangouts for simple text chats, online meetings, and video conferencing. Office 365 accomplishes the same goals with the Skype for Business app (a successor to the venerable Lync) and the newer Microsoft Teams and Streams apps.
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