Head to Head: Google Apps vs Microsoft Office 365

Mary Branscombe compares the enterprise versions of both and her conclusions may surprise you...

Online apps

Online apps like Google Docs are primitive compared to the richness of the full Office suite. In general, the features of the Office Web Apps and Google Docs are broadly similar, but while many like the sparse interface of Google Docs for its simplicity, the Office Web Apps tend to have the edge in sophistication.

Create a PowerPoint presentation in the Office Web Apps and you get good-looking themes and images you place are automatically sized to fit; a Google Docs presentation starts out in plain black and white and the designs aren't as appealing.

The Office 365 Outlook Web App has good self-service features for users (and you only see the admin links if you’re an admini

The Office 365 Outlook Web App has good self-service features for users (and you only see the admin links if you're an administrator).

Office Web Apps make inserting images from your hard drive the same simple experience it is in a local app. Google Docs gives you a wider choice for inserting images from a URL or a Google image search in a document, but it's a completely different dialog box in a presentation where inserting an image has fewer options and is a clunkier experience. The mismatch of features between different document types in Google Docs is more extreme and more jarring than in the Office Web Apps.

Sharing is better integrated in Google Docs, with a big blue Share button on the page that opens a popup dialog box. The Office Web Apps make you save the document and take you away from the editor to choose who to share it with, and take you back to viewing but not editing the document. This is because Microsoft assumes that you won't share a document until you've finished working on it. Updates appear live in Google Docs; this also happens in the OneNote Web App but the other Microsoft Web apps make you save your own changes to see edits by other users.

There are many features in both Outlook and Outlook Web that are missing from Gmail from macros to Quick Steps. Gmail equivalents tend to have fewer features which some users prefer because they're simpler. Gmail's stars, labels and priority buttons let you do much the same things as Outlook's flags, categories and folders with the advantage that a message can have multiple labels instead of being in only one folder.

You can turn an email into a Gmail task and then make a reminder, although this isn't quite as immediate as setting a follow-up flag for a specific day directly on an email. Filters the Gmail equivalent of Outlook rules have far fewer actions; in Outlook you can play sounds, send an automatic reply or even print a message that matches a rule. Gmail does include all the mostly commonly used ones though such as filing, forwarding and deleting messages.

Google Apps for Business Gmail users finally get the option to request read receipts, but these have to be enabled by the administrator and Gmail doesn't respond to delivery or read receipt requests in emails sent from Exchange. Gmail only shows the request when you close the message (Outlook shows it when you open the message) and you have to decide for each message as Gmail doesn't have Outlook's don't ask me again' checkbox. Even more irritating; if you don't want to send the receipt the button you click is marked not now' and Gmail will ask you again every time you read the message.

Apart from creating resources using Google’s complex naming structure, you have only a few controls for calendar sharing.

Apart from creating resources using Google's complex naming structure, you have only a few controls for calendar sharing.

Google Calendar can include shared resources - like rooms and projectors that need booking - which you create by typing in the details one at a time. Oddly there isn't a drop-down picklist to ensure the resources are given consistent names or a wizard to help with the complex naming conventions Google suggests, so you could end up with six conference rooms and one meeting room if you're not careful. If you follow the convention suggested, all resources that start with the same three letters will be grouped into a hierarchy but you can't do this manually.

Exchange Online has templates for creating resources like rooms (as well as equipment that isn't in a fixed location); you can even say which users can reserve rooms without permission and how often.

The Google Calendar features for end users aren't quite as powerful or complex as in Outlook, but you get the important options like overlaid calendars and recurring appointments. The Quick add tool that lets you type in a sentence, including the day and date of what you need to do, which then sets an event on the right day at the right time is a phenomenal time saver.

Winner: Tie. The Microsoft Web Apps for crediting documents are more sophisticated than Google's equivalents, but Google Docs has better sharing and collaboration features. Exchange Online has a plethorea of configurable options, but many organisations won't need these and may prefer Google's less feature-packed but also less cluttered approach.

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