Stephanie Hurd

By: Stephanie Hurd on December 30th, 2021

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Google Workspace vs. Microsoft 365

Technology Strategy | Microsoft | Business Strategy

Google Workspace vs. Microsoft 365 — which is best? Many people are passionately on team Microsoft or team Google when it comes to productivity suites. You may not even remember why you chose one or the other. It could have simply been what you knew was available way back when you started your business or first adopted the technology.

Someone, at some point, came along and suggested switching from Google to Microsoft or from Microsoft to Google. When the question comes up, most organizations struggle to identify which solution is truly best for their business vs. which one was just the flavor of the month when they made the choice.

In full disclosure, Innovative is a Microsoft Partner. We can support Google products, but we work most efficiently in Microsoft environments due to our relationship with Microsoft. Other managed service providers (MSPs) are exclusively Google Cloud partners or partner with both Microsoft and Google.

Both companies offer an excellent suite of products, and MSPs choose their vendor partnerships based on the scope of their business and the types of clients they support best.

For Innovative, we’ve found that most of the organizations we support fit nicely with Microsoft’s suite of productivity solutions.

Both Google and Microsoft maintain lists of their MSP partners:

Despite our bias toward Microsoft, we recognize Google Workspace is a better fit than Microsoft 365 for some businesses. The truth is that the two suites of products are comparable in many ways. A few key differences set them apart and are usually the deciding factor for most businesses.

In this article, we’ll objectively outline those key differences to help you make the best choice for your business. But first – let’s define the role of Google Workspace and/or Microsoft 365 in your business.

RELATED ARTICLE: How Millennials Introduced Google Docs to the Workplace - Learn the history of how Google became a serious competitor in the office-user software space in the early 2000s as the first wave of millennials entered the workforce. 

What do Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 do?

Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 are suites of productivity tools. They enable users to perform various business-oriented tasks in the cloud with the help of a web browser. Some of the everyday operations that a business can carry out with these tools include:

  • Managing calendars, setting reminders, and dates
  • Sending emails
  • Creating new documents, presentations, and spreadsheets
  • Managing files
  • Team collaboration
  • Video conferencing

Users can also enjoy a range of desktop applications when using Microsoft 365. Most of these applications are usable offline when installed on computers.

The products have each gone through various updates and name changes over the years. You may have been introduced to Google Workspace as Google Docs or GSuite and Microsoft 365 as Office Online or Office 365.

Cost of Google Workspace and Microsoft 365

The cost between comparable versions of Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace are pretty similar. Currently, both Google Workspace Business and Microsoft 365 Business plans range from around $5 to $20 per user per month based on the subscription tier you need.

There is one key difference related to pricing - contract commitment. All Google Workspace plans are month-to-month. Microsoft’s best pricing requires an annual commitment. However, there are higher-cost, month-to-month options.

Contract commitment is likely only a deciding factor between the two platforms if you regularly fluctuate user count, like a seasonal business. But even then, there may be other factors that make one suite a better fit for your business than the other. So, while contract commitment did not make our list of most common deciding factors, it’s an important factor to know.

Comparing Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 Compare

There are endless lists of Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace specs and features outlining every minute difference between the two products. But when it comes down to it, four key differentiators are typically the deciding factor of which suite is best for your business.

The four key deciding factors between Microsoft 365 and Google Workplace are:

  • Plugin and software integration needs.
  • Active Directory usage or future needs to scale users and manage permissions, access controls, and network resources for different types of users.
  • Need for locally installed applications.
  • Cloud storage needs.

Plugin and Software Integration

A plugin is a software add-on that adds additional features to other software or cloud applications.

Common plugins include:

  • CRM plugins for Outlook and Gmail that automatically log emails to CRMs like Salesforce, HubSpot, and Zoho.
  • Style, grammar, and plagiarism checkers like Grammarly, AP Style checker, and Copyleaks that add those functionalities to Word or Google Docs.
  • Lucidchart diagram plugin that adds diagram, flowchart, and mind mapping functionality to word processing (like Google Docs) and presentation (like PowerPoint) applications.
  • E-signature plugins like AdobeSign and DocuSign that pair your e-signature solution with Google Docs or Word.

The types of plugins you could use vary greatly between different businesses and different industries.

Evaluate your key software applications’ plugin and integration capabilities to determine if they integrate better with Google Workspace or Microsoft 365 applications. And don’t just take your software vendor’s word for it that their product integrates equally with both productivity suites. Look into reviews and user message boards to evaluate if the actual user experience is comparable.

You’ll find that many applications integrate easily with both Google Workspace and Microsoft 365, but some have a significantly better user experience in one suite than the other. In the latter case, plugin and integration capabilities and user experiences are an important deciding factor between Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace.

Active Directory/Windows Domain Network

This one falls along the same lines as integration capabilities but is enough of a deciding factor that it deserves its own category.

The tech jargon definition for Active Directory is Microsoft’s Windows domain network management tool.

In simple terms, it is a central directory of users that share resources on a connected group of Windows computers.

Active Directory is a Microsoft product developed for Microsoft environments. Microsoft products like other Microsoft products best. You CAN make other productivity suites work in a Microsoft environment, but it will never be as intuitive and easy to manage with Active Directory as Microsoft 365.

Google’s corresponding product to Active Directory is Google Identity Services. However, the two products are not really an apples-to-apples comparison.

Google is based in the cloud. It doesn’t manage your local network. Google Identity is a user management platform limited to managing users within Google’s cloud applications.

In other words, you can’t use Google Identify Services to support user authentication of the Windows computer. It only manages authentication within the Google applications. Users must gain access to the computer and internet before logging into the Google applications.

On the other hand, Active Directory is a core directory service for the entire on-premises network.

Active Directory is also available in the cloud through Azure Active Directory (soon to be known as Microsoft Entra ID), but unlike Google Identity Services, it still functions as a full-blown directory service. It does all the things a user management platform does PLUS – because it’s tied to the Windows operating system – it manages all user authentication and physical and virtual connections of devices on the network.

If you’re managing a network of Windows computers, you can’t replace Active Directory with Google Identity Services. You can integrate Google Identity Services with Active Directory, but it is less seamless for your administrators to manage than simply staying in the Microsoft universe.

One of our Level III techs, Adam Warner, explained it best with a travel analogy. Imagine going on a trip, and there’s a train that goes directly to your destination in the shortest amount of time. Why would you get off the train halfway there to call an Uber?

The train is your Microsoft infrastructure. Unless you have a compelling reason to take the Uber halfway, you’re going to spend more time and money setting up two different modes of transportation than just the one.

Without another strong use case for Google Workspace, Microsoft 365 is the ideal productivity suite in environments that require Active Directory. While Active Directory doesn’t prohibit you from using Google Workspace, you’ll have a more user-friendly administration experience managing Microsoft 365 within your Windows domain managed with Active Directory.

Local Applications

Local software applications are a significant differentiator between Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace.

Google Workspace applications live in the cloud. That means you must be comfortable using the applications like Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides within a web browser. Additionally, you need reliable internet connections to save and access files in Google Drive.

Microsoft 365 offers similar cloud functionality to Google Workspace through the online versions of their apps like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint and cloud file storage solutions like OneDrive. But they also still offer local versions of their productivity applications, with the option to save files locally to your computer or other shared network drives. This means you can do things like creating and saving Word documents without an internet connection.

If local Microsoft applications are important to you, Microsoft 365 is your ideal productivity suite. However, you can mix and match local Microsoft applications with other email hosting and communication solutions.

A Microsoft 365 Apps subscription gives you the full Microsoft Office application suite both online and locally, without other Microsoft 365 services like hosted email and calendaring. So, you could use Google, or any other email hosting solution for your email, paired with Microsoft’s Office productivity suite.

Cloud Storage

Both Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 Business subscriptions come with cloud file storage and sharing capabilities. However, the cloud data storage capacity per user, particularly in the lower subscription tiers, varies.

All four Microsoft 365 Business plans come standard with 1 TB cloud storage per user.

Google Workspace Business Starter offers significantly less with only 30 GB cloud storage per user, but the next tier up, Google Workspace Business Standard, leaps 2 TB cloud storage.

Microsoft’s 1 TB of cloud storage is typically enough for standard office workers. Plus, many Microsoft users connect to local networks with other file storage options like on-premise or cloud servers.

However, cloud file storage is something to consider, particularly for users who work with large file sizes – think graphic designers and videographers.

A note about cloud data backups

Note that cloud solutions like Microsoft and Google are not immune to data loss and ransomware. This cloud ransomware demonstration video shows how ransomware attacks work in the cloud and why your backup and disaster recovery strategy must include cloud backup services.

Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace: Both Robust Productivity Suites

Both Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace offer similar capabilities at similar price points. The best choice for your business depends on how your users use the tools and how they like to work.

If you’re in a Windows environment managed with Activity Directory, your network administrators likely feel strongly about staying within the Microsoft universe. And they’re not wrong unless you have a strong business need for an alternate solution like Google Workforce.

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