Google Workspace vs. Microsoft Office

Google Workspace vs. Microsoft 365: What’s the best office suite for business?

Google Workspace has become a powerful, feature-filled alternative to Microsoft Office. We break down the pros and cons of each suite to help you decide which is right for your business.

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Email: Gmail vs. Microsoft Outlook

If you prize simplicity, you’ll favor Gmail over Outlook. Gmail has a much cleaner and less cluttered interface than Outlook’s, offering the best balance between ease of use and powerful features. However, Outlook has made some headway towards being more straightforward to use with a new simplified Ribbon you can turn on.

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Gmail offers a streamlined interface and intuitive ways to accomplish your most important email tasks. (Click image to enlarge it.)

Whether it’s creating, responding to, or managing email, Gmail offers an intuitive interface with easy-to-use tools for getting your work done fast. My favorites include an AI-driven option that suggests words and phrases as you type, a “nudge” feature for surfacing forgotten messages, and a handy snooze button for delaying incoming messages.

When it comes to power features, however, Outlook rules. For example, Outlook’s Focused Inbox lets you see and respond to the most important emails first, and its Clean Up feature does a great job of simplifying long email threads so they’re easier to follow. And because the contacts and calendar functions are part of Outlook itself, they’re well integrated with email. Gmail relies on the separate Google Contacts and Calendar apps, which can be a bit more cumbersome to navigate.

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Even with a new, simplified Ribbon option, Outlook’s interface can be quite confusing to use. (Click image to enlarge it.)

If your users want every bell and whistle possible, Outlook provides them all. For getting things done quickly, Gmail is a better choice.

For a more in-depth comparison, see “Gmail vs. Outlook: Which works better for business?

Collaboration: Google Chat, Meet, and Spaces vs. Microsoft Teams

As I’ve noted multiple times in this article, when it comes to collaborating on documents, Google Workspace is far superior to Microsoft 365 — it’s baked right into the interface, rather than feeling like an afterthought as it does in the Office apps. Everything is in front of you to invite people to collaborate, set their collaboration rights, and chat with them while you do the work together. There’s a deeper learning curve for using collaboration in Office, and even when you learn how to do it, it’s not nearly as seamless as in the Google apps.

Working together on individual documents is only one part of the equation, though. When it comes to more complex, enterprise-wide collaboration features, Microsoft 365 includes tools that beat anything Google Workspace offers. Microsoft Teams, for example, combines group chat, online meetings, videoconferencing, customized workspaces, calendars, and shared team file repositories in a way that’s more sophisticated and useful than anything Google has. And Teams has deep ties to the rest of the Office platform, offering effortless integration with Outlook, SharePoint, OneDrive for Business and more.

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Teams is a group-chat platform that integrates closely with the rest of Microsoft 365. (Click image to enlarge it.)

For its part, Workspace offers Google Meet for videoconferencing and Google Chat for messaging. A relatively new addition to the Workspace app set is Spaces, a workflow integration and collaboration platform that’s integrated with Google Calendar, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Meet, and Tasks. Spaces lets you create shared workspaces where you can chat, share files, and assign tasks. These tools are useful and straightforward, although not quite as powerful as Microsoft 365’s offerings.

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Creating a new shared workspace in Spaces. (Click image to enlarge it.)

Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace each offer their own social-network-like place to interact with one another, Yammer in the case of Microsoft 365 and Currents for Workspace. Neither of them is directly integrated with its respective office suite, though, and Google recently announced that it’s phasing out Currents in favor of Spaces.

Storage and file sharing: Google Drive vs. Microsoft OneDrive for Business and SharePoint

Both suites come with substantial amounts of storage, aside from the cheapest Google Workspace version, Starter, which offers only 30GB per person. The next two Workspace options include 2TB or 5TB per person, and the Enterprise plan includes unlimited storage. Microsoft 365’s small business and lower-tier enterprise plans include 1TB of storage per user, while its E3 and E5 plans include 5TB of storage per user.

There’s little to differentiate Google Workspace’s and Microsoft 365’s storage-and-shared-documents features from one another. Both Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive for Business integrate directly with their own office suites, and both allow you to access the files on any device. In Workspace, the files live in the cloud by default rather than on the devices themselves, although you can also store them locally. In Microsoft 365 they typically live on each device and also in the cloud, and it all syncs together, although you have the option of keeping specific files and folders cloud-only.

If you're worried about offline access for the cloud-first Google Workspace, it offers management tools that allow administrators to set whether users can access their documents and use Docs, Sheets, and Slides when their computers aren’t connected to the internet. The tools allow admins to install a policy on each computer allowing that access, or else let each user decide whether to allow offline access.

OneDrive has a nice feature called OneDrive Files on Demand that lets users decide, on a file-by-file and folder-by-folder basis, which files to store on individual devices and which to leave in the cloud, although the files and folders in the cloud are still available for download when you want them on a device.

Almost all Microsoft 365 business and enterprise plans also include a free version of Microsoft’s SharePoint service, called SharePoint Online. SharePoint Online adds substantial features to storage and sharing. It manages and organizes documents, workflows, and other shared information, typically via a series of mini-sites.

SharePoint Online is delivered as a service and is hosted by Microsoft, so businesses do not need to purchase and manage their own servers and infrastructure for it. However, they may need admins to handle a number of SharePoint Online tasks, such as content management and portal design.

There’s also a for-pay version of SharePoint, called SharePoint Server, that is available under a separate license and isn’t included as part of Microsoft 365. With SharePoint Server, your business hosts and manages the physical and software infrastructure required for SharePoint. That means performing tasks such as racking servers; applying security patches and feature updates; and monitoring uptime, reliability, and security. With SharePoint Online, those tasks are handled by Microsoft.

Google doesn’t offer a true equivalent to SharePoint Online in Google Workspace. Subscribers to the Business, Education, and Enterprise plans can use a feature called Team Drives, which are Google Drive folders that can be accessed and managed by more than one person. They can be used as handy repositories for members of a team to store and share documents, images, and other files, but Team Drives are not integrated intranet sites like those offered by SharePoint.

One final note: Google’s search tools for finding documents in Google Drive are far better than Microsoft’s search tools in OneDrive, and its Cloud Search function extends Google’s search power across all of a company’s content. That being said, it’s generally easier to browse OneDrive using File Explorer than it is to browse Google Drive on the web.

Other tools and extras with Google Workspace vs. Microsoft 365

Microsoft 365 goes well beyond suite basics, with plenty of extra applications and smaller apps. Foremost among them is Access, which can be used to build business applications, either based on templates or completely from scratch. It’s designed for non-developers, although it does require some coding smarts. Access is available for Windows only, and subscribers to Microsoft 365 Business Basic and Microsoft 365 E1 don’t get it.

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Access is among the tools included with most business and enterprise Microsoft 365 plans. (Click image to enlarge it.)

Another PC-only program included with most business and enterprise subscriptions is the Windows-based desktop publishing software Publisher. The OneNote note-taking app is a very useful yet underutilized part of the Office suite. Microsoft 365 also comes with Microsoft Forms, an app that lets you create surveys, quizzes and polls, and Microsoft Planner, which, as its name implies, helps teams create plans, and assign tasks, share files, chat about what you’re working on, and keep track of updates. It can work by itself or integrate with Microsoft Teams.

Another application included with some Microsoft 365 business and enterprise plans is Power Automate (previously called Microsoft Flow), which allows businesses to automate repetitive tasks and integrate them into workflows — for example, automatically sending an alert when a new item is added to SharePoint. Other apps and services included with some plans include PowerApps, a low-code app development tool; MyAnalytics, a productivity analysis tool; Delve, a tool that lets users find and organize content in Microsoft 365; Stream, an enterprise video service; Sway, a tool for creating web-based presentations; and Kaizala, a mobile work management app aimed at frontline workers.

Finally, Microsoft offers additional tools that aren’t formally part of Microsoft 365 but integrate with it, such as To Do, a to-do list app that works with Outlook and Microsoft Planner.

That’s a lot of extras, which is both good and bad. The good is obvious — there are plenty of tools available for you. The bad may be less obvious — getting a handle on how they all work (or don’t work) together can be very confusing.

Google Workspace has fewer of these extras, and most are less powerful than Microsoft 365’s additional tools. Google Forms, which works hand-in-hand with Sheets, is probably the most powerful and useful of the extras. As the name implies, it lets you create forms for a wide variety of purposes, such as an order form, a work request, time-off request, getting feedback about an event.

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Google Forms lets you quickly and easily create customized forms to get feedback. (Click image to enlarge it.)

Google Sites is another useful one. It lets you create team and company websites for individual projects, events, and other similar purposes. There’s also the Google Keep note-taking app, which is straightforward, bare-bones, and not nearly as sophisticated as Microsoft’s OneNote. AppMaker (available with the Google Workspace Business and Enterprise plans) provides a low-code app development environment.

And if you want to create drawings, particularly diagrams, you’ll appreciate Google Drawings, which is not included with Google Workspace but works in concert with it (and is free). If you create a drawing with Drawings and embed it into a Google Doc, and then make a change in the drawing file itself, the drawing in Google Docs gets updated as well.

None of these extras offers knock-your-socks-off capabilities, aside from Microsoft’s Access and PowerApps and Google’s AppMaker, which can allow those with limited programming experience to create truly useful applications. So they may not affect which suite is best for your business. For many companies, they’re nice-to-have tools, not must-have ones.

Google Workspace vs. Microsoft 365: Security and management tools

Choosing the productivity suite with the best features for your business is one thing, but often overlooked is how easy or difficult it is to manage the suite and protect your data. Even the best user-facing features can’t make up for poor or insufficient security and management tools.

Both suites are managed from a web interface, and in both instances, the interface leaves something to be desired, with somewhat confusing options and layouts. However, the simplified  view in the Microsoft 365 admin center beats anything in Google Workspace because of how easily it lets you accomplish the most common tasks, including and editing new and existing users, changing licenses, paying bills, and installing Office on devices..

Interfaces aside, Microsoft 365 offers better admin account security, superior mobile administration, and more management controls. Both suites protect your data with enterprise-grade security and offer a central security center for managing user permissions and protections.

For an in-depth comparison, check out “Google Workspace vs. Microsoft 365: Which has better management tools?

Google Workspace vs. Microsoft 365: Service and support

In an ideal world, nothing goes wrong with an office suite, and no one ever needs technical support. But we don’t live in that ideal world. So you’ll want to know the kind of support and updates Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 offer.

Google Workspace offers 24/7 tech support via phone, email, and chat, but for Workspace administrators only. There’s also a searchable help center for administrators and a blog covering release information for Google Workspace updates. Also useful is the Google Workspace Community, which includes forums as well as YouTube videos to help administrators accomplish common tasks. Non-administrators will have to visit Google’s general help area, which covers many Google products such as YouTube, Google Maps, and Google Photos in addition to the individual components of Google Workspace. There’s also a Google Workspace Learning Center for user training.

Microsoft also has 24/7 tech support via phone, email, and chat for Microsoft 365 administrators. The Microsoft 365 admin center help site includes help targeted at small businesses as well as enterprises, and the Microsoft 365 Training site offers comprehensive video training for admins, IT pros and Microsoft 365 users. There’s a sizable number of forums devoted to Microsoft 365. And the Microsoft Office Help & Training area has a wide variety of help, down to the application level and including troubleshooting for both consumers and admins. As for updates, Microsoft generally releases Microsoft 365 updates one or more times a month and publishes information online about every update.

Can Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace work together?

As you’ve seen throughout this piece, Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace have their own strengths and weaknesses, so you might be tempted to use both of them — for example, Microsoft 365 for document creation and Google Workspace for collaboration.

Theoretically, it’s possible. In practice, it’s a bad idea. In part that’s because Google Workspace’s documents aren’t saved as local documents with their own file formats. Instead, they live on Google’s servers. You can save them in various file formats, including Microsoft 365’s .docx, .xlsx and .pptx, and you can import files from those and other formats as well. There’s even a way to natively edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files in their original formats on Google’s servers. But I’ve found that formatting and layouts are often lost in translation between Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace, embedded videos don’t work, not all comments are shown, resolved comments don’t appear, comments you make in Google aren’t brought back into Office, and so on.

In addition, the workflow is a nightmare if you’re transferring files back and forth between the two suites. The idea behind editing online is to have a single location where everyone can collaborate on the latest version of each file, but if you use both Workspace and Microsoft 365, various versions of the file may be stored in Google Drive, OneDrive for Business, or both.

But what about using one suite for content creation, collaboration, and storage and the other for communications like email, shared calendars, group chat, and videoconferencing? Again, it’s theoretically possible, but I don’t see the point. It makes everything much more difficult because of convoluted workflows, and you’d lose the integrations built into each suite. And there’s also the issue of businesses having to pay for, manage, and maintain two office suites, not one, when there are no obvious benefits to be gained by it.

As for integrating with other enterprise software such as Salesforce, Shopify, HubSpot, and others, there are plenty of tools for doing that with both suites. If any particular piece of enterprise software is particularly important to your business, you’d do well to test out the integrations with both Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 before deciding on a suite.

Who should use Google Workspace

Based on all this, what kind of company should use Google Workspace? It’s pretty straightforward: If collaborating on documents is baked into your company’s DNA — or you want to bake it in — Google Workspace is for you. Its live collaboration features far outstrip anything Microsoft 365 has to offer. They’re such an integral part of the suite’s design and so simple to use, it requires practically no time at all to get up and running with them.

Google Workspace is also a good bet if your company doesn’t need all the sophisticated features of Microsoft 365’s individual apps. Each individual application in Google Workspace is simpler to use than Microsoft 365’s, with Gmail in particular more straightforward than Outlook. And if your users do a lot of searching for documents, Google’s search for Google Drive outstrips what Microsoft 365 has to offer.

Who should use Microsoft 365

If powerful and sophisticated features are more important to you than the best in collaboration, then Microsoft 365 is for you. Every one of its applications beats out its Google Workspace equivalent. And it’s not as if you can’t do live collaboration in Microsoft 365. It’s just a bit more of a chore and not as straightforward as in Google Workspace. And Microsoft 365’s markup features are exemplary, so it’s a good bet when people need to review each other’s work.

There are other reasons for a business to use Microsoft 365 as well. Although Google Workspace’s Team Drives are useful for sharing documents and materials, they are no match for the fully collaborative environments that SharePoint offers. If you want to manage your mail server, rather than use hosted email, you’ll also want Microsoft 365. And Microsoft Teams provides a great way for teams to share work with one another.

This story was originally published in February 2020 and updated in September 2022.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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