OPINION: Google Workspace (previously Google Apps) and Microsoft 365 (Previously Office 365) are the dominant market leaders in the cloud-based productivity suite market.
Both companies spend billions on developing and improving their platforms as part of a fever-pitched battle for customers.
This is great news for business as both suites are excellent, and they’re improving all the time.
We’ve been implementing and supporting Workspace for almost 15 years and 365 for almost 10 years, and these suites are so good that your business should be on one or the other – nothing else in the market comes even close.
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But which one do you choose?
Workspace and 365 are both subscription services with too many features to give justice here.
Although they’re very different in their implementation (Workspace is web-centric, while 365 revolves around Microsoft’s blockbuster Office suite), both have a core set of key features that are a necessity to most businesses. These are:
- Business email and shared calendars;
- Cloud storage (online file storage);
- Productivity app suite for creating and collaborating on documents; and,
- Real-time communications tools for chat, video calling, online meetings, etc.
Let’s compare these key features between suites and see if we can pick a winner, but first, let’s look at price.
There are several options to choose from for both Workspace and 365, but for most SMEs the standard option will be the most suitable.
Workspace Standard costs $18 plus GST per user per month and includes 2TB of storage per user, which can be used for email and cloud file storage.
365 Standard costs $18.90 plus GST per user per month and includes 1TB of cloud file storage and a 50gb maximum mailbox size.
Microsoft 365 Standard also includes a license to use Microsoft Office apps (including Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher and Access) across multiple devices.
If you use Google Workspace but want these Microsoft Office apps, you’ll need to allow an additional $14.80 plus GST per user per month for these.
Winner: Microsoft 365, as most of us will need Microsoft Office apps.
Business email and shared calendars
Google has a huge advantage over Microsoft in this area, as Google Workspace’s business email offering started as Gmail, which was designed from the ground up for the cloud.
Microsoft’s 365 business email, by comparison, started life as the Microsoft Exchange office email product, and it shows.
With Workspace you can still use Outlook or any other popular email client, but its Gmail-based webmail interface is so good you’ll likely ditch Outlook before long. As you’d expect from Google, searching through your email is fast and powerful, although 365 has largely caught up in this area.
A key benefit of Workspace is it only limits the size of your email account by the amount of storage available to you under your plan, and these plans are upgradeable.
Microsoft 365, on the other hand, offers a paltry 50GB limit that can’t be increased for love nor money. The only way to increase your maximum mailbox size is to upgrade to an Enterprise plan (impossible for most SMEs), and even then the maximum is increased only to 100GB.
Choice Technology is on Google Workspace and my email account has over 650GB of emails in it, and I never waste time detaching files or archiving email. I never delete a message, no matter how trivial, as it’s just as easy to archive it, and you never know what messages you’ll want to find in the future.
We have numerous customers on 365, by contrast, and many have no choice but to regularly archive email to keep below the 50GB limit. This is a ridiculous waste of time for people who are typically time poor as it is.
In my experience, Workspace’s anti-spam engine is significantly better than 365’s too, which is important as email is the single biggest source of phishing attacks and malware in business.
Winner: Google Workspace by a country mile. Avoiding having to archive/delete emails is reason enough to choose Workspace over 365.
Cloud storage allows you to securely store your files on the cloud and access them from anywhere and from any device. You should always store your files on the cloud – not only does it make them securely accessible from anywhere, it also means you’re not going to lose them if your hard drive crashes or your PC is stolen.
Workspace offers Google Drive, while 365 has Microsoft OneDrive for Business. Both provide software clients that allow you to integrate cloud storage into your desktop and mobile operating systems, so you can open and save files to the cloud as easily as to your local hard drive.
OneDrive for Business, once a godawful spin-off from Microsoft SharePoint, has improved significantly over the years and is now a mature, reliable service and a worthy competitor to Google Drive.
Google Drive is rock solid and tightly integrated with the rest of Google Workspace.
Winner: Too close to call. There are pros and cons to each product, but I’m going to call a tie on this one.
Productivity app suite
Google was an early pioneer in the online productivity app suite space, and all the productivity apps in Workspace are web-only. Although we default to Google Docs or Sheets whenever we create a document at Choice Technology, it’s undeniable that Microsoft has the clear advantage in this area.
Microsoft Word is the only choice if you want to create a high-quality, print-ready document (such as a customer proposal), and you can run the most popular Office apps on almost any device.
You can open Word documents in Google Docs, but the formatting is never quite right. Most of us will need Word on hand, if only to open and collaborate on .docx files sent to us.
Winner: Microsoft 365. Google’s productivity apps are faster and easier to use, but Office is still the mack daddy of productivity app suites.
Google was also an early leader in this space – when they launched Hangouts in 2013, it was a truly groundbreaking product. It allowed you to chat, for free, with just about anyone in the world from within a web browser. High-quality video calling and video conferencing soon followed.
Google hasn’t done enough with Hangouts or Google Chat (successor to Hangouts) to stay ahead of the competition, and as surprising as this would have been to say a few years ago, Microsoft Teams is the winner here.
Although it has its quirks, Teams has evolved quickly to become a much more powerful real-time communications platform to Hangouts or Chat.
Winner: Microsoft 365, although remember you can still use Google Chat or Microsoft Teams for free, even if you don’t use their productivity suites.
So that’s three wins to Microsoft 365 and one to Google Workspace, with one category tied.
On the face of it, 365 is the winner, and this is testament to how much it has improved over the past five years. If we performed this comparison back in 2016, Microsoft would have fared much worse.
But for me, the limitations around 365’s email storage are a deal-breaker, and we generally recommend Workspace over 365 based on this alone.
Our advice to customers is this: once you’ve factored in the cost of the Office apps, Workspace is going to cost a little more than 365 each month, but it’s worth it to avoid running into the 50GB mailbox limit.
It’s 2021 for goodness sake – none of us have the time to be pruning our mailbox to keep it below some arbitrary limit.
Overall winner: Google Workspace, but possibly only until Microsoft sorts out that 50GB mailbox limit.
– Damian Funnell is founder of Choice Technology, an IT services company, and a technology commentator. He is contactable at firstname.lastname@example.org.