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Google Apps vs. Office 365 for business email systems

With comparable cloud-based productivity suites, Google and Microsoft compete for enterprise users. In the Google Apps vs. Office 365 for business debate, which side are you on?

It's easy to have an opinion on Google Apps vs. Office 365 based on personal bias. As an Office 365 MVP, I would give it the gold star. But Office 365 and Google Apps are both solid cloud-based business productivity options.

Google Apps and Office 365 have similar focus points to each product -- see table below -- with good companies and brilliant development teams working hard for enterprise consumers.

Both options offer comparable product suites with regard to the problems that business users face. 

I could go feature by feature and explain the pros and cons of each, but most would agree that Microsoft tends to go for the overkill tool that fits all needs, versus Google Apps that shoots for a minimalist approach; it is part of the company cultures of each and indicates the target audience each caters to. There are many admins who prefer a simplistic option, one that gets the job done with very little extra to distract.

Problem/requirement

Google apps

Office 365

Browser

Chrome

Internet Explorer (and Edge on Windows 10)

Word processing

Docs

Word 2013/2016 / Word App Online

Spreadsheets

Sheets

Excel 2013/2016 / Excel App Online

Presentations

Slides

PowerPoint 2013/2016 / PowerPoint App Online

Email

Gmail

Exchange Online with Outlook  / Outlook Web App (soon to be Outlook on the Web)

Collaborative sites

Sites

SharePoint Online

Cloud storage

Drive

OneDrive for Business

Instant messaging

Talk

Skype for Business

Video collaboration

Hangouts

Skype for Business

Social collaboration

Google+

Yammer

Note taking

Keep

OneNote

The companies' approaches to search are a good example of the minimalist versus maximalist method to development. Google's website has a search bar that basically hasn't changed since the beginning -- the minimalist approach. Bing's website is colorful and has a lot going on. Some love it, others feel it's distracting. 

Money vs. assimilation

Although Microsoft and Google have similar one-to-one type productivity tools, from a business perspective, there are two main areas to focus on: cost and integration.

Office 365 has the ability to tie into your existing Active Directory (AD), and there is a way to synchronize directories with the Azure AD that you use for Office 365 management. Google Apps doesn't offer these integration options. With many enterprise environments, in a mid- to large-size business, relying on AD for identity management, you can see how this would be a negative for Google Apps.

Since many organizations have an on-premises environment -- typically running Exchange -- a company looking to move to Google Apps has to consider it an all-or-nothing move. Google Apps doesn't have a hybrid option, unlike Office 365 in which users can test the waters of cloud-based email -- onboard and offboard mailboxes. That's not as intimidating as making a full cut to Google Apps; however, smaller businesses might not have much difficulty making a move of that sort. 

Over time, this may not matter, as more organizations begin to trust the cloud and move their entire IT infrastructure up. But for now, I see this as a win for Microsoft. Microsoft hosting full infrastructure options through Azure is another.

If I wanted to be completely fair, I would exclude Office 365 desktop applications from the comparison, such as the Office productivity suite. However, Google has developed an online suite of word processing and spreadsheet apps that require Internet connectivity for use, whereas the Office suite can be installed locally on systems. So I believe that gives Microsoft an edge on the application side. Google has enabled offline editing functionality to compete with the locally installed application approach.

There is no single reason why end users use Google Apps as a shadow IT tool. It might be that they use Google Drive for document sharing, or have a Gmail account they use for unofficial email or collaboration business. They might use Dropbox or any other unapproved tool to avoid red tape and asking permission to get work done. It's really a personal choice.

From a pricing perspective, Google Apps has a much easier set of options and a better price point. Google Apps is $5 per user per month, and apps with unlimited storage and Vault, for e-discovery covering email, chats, docs and files, is $10 per user per month. 

Office 365 on the other hand has a variety of Small Business -- up to 300 users -- and Enterprise plans with a bevy of different price points, options and features that range from $5 to $20 per user per month. Comparing the top line options between Google Apps, $10, and Business and Enterprise, $12.50 or $20, shows that Office 365 is more expensive, which matters to organizations that have a tight budget, such as schools and government offices.

After weighing Google Apps vs. Office 365, I say Office 365 is the better choice in a business environment. I'm not of a minimalist mindset when it comes to enterprise-grade productivity tools, even if running in the cloud. I see more commitment from Microsoft on its Office 365 suite in terms of collaboration and communication. There is a greater reach for iPad and Android options for apps and the Office suite. Microsoft is committed to ensure people of all tech backgrounds -- Apple and Android worshippers -- can still access their Microsoft tools. Microsoft isn't ignoring the proliferation of non-Microsoft devices.

Although Office 365 has a higher price tag, you get what you pay for, in my opinion. I appreciate that some organizations want to be different under the banner of saving money, but when you compare Google Apps vs. Office 365 for business, I cannot see Google Apps putting up much of a struggle against the rise of Office 365 -- it will remain the outlier option until eventually Office 365 wins users over.

About the author
J. Peter Bruzzese is a Microsoft Office 365 MVP .

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