G Suite vs. Office 365: Which is best for your business?

G Suite and Office 365 have much in common. Both are subscription-based, charging businesses per-person fees every month, in varying tiers, depending on the capabilities their customers are looking for.

The suites also offer the same basic core applications. Each has word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, email, calendar and contacts programs, along with videoconferencing, messaging and note-taking software. Each has cloud storage associated with it.

But the question many businesses, particularly startups, have a lot of trouble answering is, G Suite (Google Apps) vs. Office 365 – which is better?

In this blog, I’m going to try to help you decide which is best for your business, by putting the two product suites head to head in a detailed comparison review in the key areas of:

  • Pricing
  • Features
  • Ease-of use
  • Working Offline
  • Security
  • Service and Support

G Suite vs. Office 365: Pricing


G Suite

Choosing a G Suite plan is fairly straightforward, as there are only three plans available.

  • Basic: 6 USD per user per month – comes with the full suite of applications and 30GB of storage. (Nonprofits can use G Suite Basic free of charge.)
  • Business: 12 USD per user per month – includes all that, plus unlimited storage and archiving, enterprise search capabilities, additional administrative tools, and a low-code application environment
  • Enterprise: 25 USD per user per month – includes all of what the Business version offers, plus even more administrative controls

Office 365

The pricing options for Office 365 are considerably more complicated, because there are home, business, enterprise, government, non-profit and education versions available…and within that, a whole load of sub-versions.

There are two ways to look at this wide range of pricing options: on the plus side, there’s a lot of flexibility, but on the down side, it’s rather confusing trawling through all the plans to work out which one is best suited to your requirements.

For the purposes of this review, I’m going to focus on the Office 365 plans which are geared towards small business and enterprise users. These are as follows:

Small business / SMEs

  • Office 365 Business Essentials: 5 USD per user per month
  • Office 365 Business: 8.25 USD per user per month
  • Office 365 Business Premium: 12.50 USD per user per month

(The above prices apply if you pay upfront for a year; you can also pay on a monthly basis, in which case the above plans cost $6, $10 and $15 per user per month, respectively)

Enterprise

  • Office 365 E1: 8 USD per user per month
  • Office 365 ProPlus: 12 USD per user per month
  • Office 365 E3: 20 USD per user per month
  • Office 365 E5: 35 USD per user per month

The main things to note about these options are as follows:

  • All the Office 365 Enterprise plans require an annual commitment. By contrast, the G Suite plans can be bought on a per-month basis, which may suit some organisations — those with regular changes in the number of staff, or those using contractors and associates — a bit better.
  • The Office ‘Business’ plans all limit the maximum number of users to 300; by contrast, you can have an unlimited number of users on the plans geared towards enterprise users.
  • All plans provide you with with the desktop versions of the Microsoft Office product suite (Word, Excel, Powerpoint etc.) except for the ‘Business Essentials’ and ‘E1’ plans, which only provide the online ones. So if a key motivation behind choosing Office 365 is to avail of the desktop apps as well as the cloud features — a big advantage of using Office 365 over G Suite — make sure you avoid those particular plans.
  • Not all of the Office 365 plans provide users with an email account — if you want to use Office 365 as your email service provider, you’ll need to steer clear of the ‘Business’ and the ‘Pro Plus’ plans.
  • Microsoft’s new video collaboration service — ‘Microsoft Stream’ — is only available on the Enterprise plans.

So which works out cheaper, Office 365 or G Suite?

The most directly comparable G Suite and Office 365 plans are arguably

the G Suite ‘Basic’ ($6 per user per month) and Office 365 ‘Business Essentials’ ($5 per user per month, with annual commitment) plans

and

the G Suite ‘Business’ ($12 per user per month) and Office 365 ‘E3’ ($20 per user per month) plans.

In essence there is a small saving to be made at the lower end of the pricing bands by plumping for Microsoft’s ‘‘Business Essentials’ over the G Suite ‘Basic’ plan (although you will need to bear in mind that the Microsoft product requires an annual commitment); but at the ‘enterprise’ level, the Office 365 ‘E1’ plan comes in $8 higher per month than the G Suite ‘Business’ plan (and again, you’ll have to pay upfront for the year for the Microsoft product too).

This doesn’t really tell the full story however, because there are a lot of variables and potential tradeoffs at play here.


G Suite vs. Office 365: Features


Office 365 and G Suite both offer a set of web applications which have (sometimes rough) equivalents in both product suites, namely:

  • Word = Google Docs
  • Excel = Google Sheets
  • Powerpoint = Google Slide
  • Outlook Online = Gmail
  • Microsoft Teams = Google Hangouts
  • Microsoft OneDrive = Google Drive

Word processing: Google Docs vs. Microsoft Word

Deciding on whether your business would be better off with Google Docs or Microsoft Word is fairly straightforward: Which is more important to your users: easy-to-use collaboration or the greatest range of document creation and editing features? For collaboration, Google Docs is better. For as fully featured a word processor as you’ll find anywhere, you’ll want Word.

By saying Word has superior features, I don’t mean a bunch of tools that your business may never use. I mean great capabilities that make your workflow easier and more productive. If you’re creating a report, brochure, resume, or almost any other kind of document, Word offers an excellent set of pre-built templates so you can get writing fast, knowing that your document will have a solid, useful design. For example, Word has nearly 50 different report templates, while Google Docs only has five. Word also offers more chart types and styles for embedding into documents.

But Google Docs outshines Word when it comes to live collaboration. Collaborating is seamless and has been built into it from the ground up, while in Word it’s more difficult to use, not as comprehensive and feels tacked-on rather than an integral part of the program.


Spreadsheets: Google Sheets vs. Microsoft Excel

Do users in your company mostly work alone on spreadsheets, or do they frequently collaborate with others? The answer to that will determine whether Excel or Google Sheets is better for your business.

For those who primarily work by themselves, Excel is the clear winner. As with Word, its wide selection of templates offers an embarrassment of riches. For example, there are more than 60 templates just for different types of budgets. Whether it’s a business budget or a special-purpose budget, such as for a marketing event, you’ll likely find one that fits your needs and that can be easily edited. By contrast, Google Sheets has only three different budget templates.

Excel also offers far more chart types than Google Sheets — 17 in all — including popular ones such as column, line, pie, bar and area; more complex ones such as radar, surface and histogram; and some that are known mainly to data professionals, like box & whisker. And many chart types have multiple subtypes — for example, among the bar charts you’ll find clustered bar, stacked bar, and son on, and each of those has two variations. Google Sheets has only seven main types of charts. It’s also simpler to create charts with Excel than it is in Google Sheets.

Google Sheets far outpaces Excel in real-time collaboration, though. As with Docs, collaboration is baked directly into Sheets. Not only does it have more powerful tools, but they’re naturally integrated and easy to access. The same holds true for editing and commenting on spreadsheets.


Presentations: Google Slides vs. Microsoft PowerPoint

As with word processing and spreadsheet apps, whether Google Slides or PowerPoint is best for your business comes down to a single point: Do you prize collaboration or powerful features in a presentation program? If collaboration is king in your company, Google Slides is better. For every other reason, PowerPoint is.

For example, PowerPoint’s QuickStarter feature makes quick work of starting a presentation.  Choose the topic of your presentation, and QuickStarter walks you through creating an outline, starter slides, templates and themes. Google Slides has no equivalent.

Similarly, with PowerPoint, it’s easier to add graphics, transitions, animations and multimedia. It has more chart and table types as well. And it has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to giving the presentation itself, with innovative capabilities such as Rehearse Timings, which times how long you take on each individual slide as you rehearse a presentation. That way, you won’t get bogged down on any individual slide, and you can practice giving each slide its just due. Google Slides has nothing like it.

However, Google Slides rules when it comes to collaboration, with far outstrips the kludgy and awkward capabilities built into PowerPoint. And because Slides offers fewer capabilities than Excel, it’s slightly easier to create slides in it, because it doesn’t pack as many features into the interface.


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 default one, 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.

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. Our 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.

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


Collaboration: Google Hangouts Chat and Meet vs. Microsoft Teams

A huge advantage of working in the cloud is the collaboration possibilities it opens up. Instead of messing about with markup and ‘tracking changes’, people who want to work on the same file can simply open up a document in a browser and see, in real time, the edits that everybody looking at the file is making.

Both G Suite and Office 365 provide video conferencing functionality: ‘Hangouts Meet’ and ‘Microsoft Teams’ respectively.

Office 365 is more generous when it comes to participant limits on video calls: on most plans you can have 250 participants in a business call, with the limit increasing to a whopping 10,000 participants if you’re on an E1 plan or higher (whether or not you’d want to have a meeting with 10,000 people is another question!).

By contrast, the maximum number of participants in a Google Meet is 100 on the ‘Basic’ plan; 150 on the ‘Business’ plans; or 250 on the G Suite Enterprise plan.

If you’re looking for serious voice calling functionality in general — both in terms of conference calling or general telephony services — Office 365 offers a lot more options, but you will have to be on one of the most expensive plans to avail of these features.


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

If we’re talking entry-level plans, then Office 365 is a clear winner here: you get 1TB of storage with the ‘Business Essentials’ plan compared to Google’s rather paltry 30GB on its ‘Basic’ plan (to add insult to injury, Google also counts emails as taking up space in this 30GB limit).

However, if you move up a notch to the G Suite ‘Business’ plan, you’ll find that the Google plans beat all but the most expensive Microsoft plans in the file storage department (so long as you have 5 or more users – more on that in a moment).

With the G Suite Business plan, you get unlimited storage, which is extremely useful to any business that has a need to store large files in the cloud. Although Microsoft Office 365’s 1TB limit (which applies to most of its plans) sounds very generous, you’d be surprised how quickly you can burn through 1TB of storage if you’re uploading large image, video or audio files to the cloud.

That said, if you’re just talking about working with standard documents and spreadsheets, a 1 TB limit per user should be perfectly adequate for most small to medium sized businesses.

Ultimately however, if having unlimited cloud storage is your primary concern, then it’s mostly a win here for G Suite: whereas you can avail of it for $12 per user per month with Google, you’re looking at an equivalent cost of $20 or $35 per month with Microsoft, on its E3 and E5 plans respectively.


Advanced features in Office 365 and G Suite

There are various features that are available on certain G Suite and Office 365 plans which will be of relevance to users with advanced requirements.

Features common to both products’ enterprise-grade plans are:

  • Intranet building tools
  • E-discovery tools
  • Advanced reporting
  • Email archiving
  • Legal holds on inboxes
  • Data loss prevention tools

Microsoft offer some additional advanced functionality on their most expensive plans, including

  • Advanced virus protection
  • Mailbox rights management
  • Cloud based phone call hosting services
  • Personal and organizational analytics

It’s probably fair to say that you can avail of some advanced functionality a bit cheaper with G Suite – for example e-Discovery tools, advanced reporting, email archiving and legal holds on inboxes all come as standard on the $12 per month G Suite ‘Business plan’.

But if you are hoping to avail of most of the functionality listed above using Office 365, you’ll have to bear in mind that it is only available on the most expensive plans — the $20 per user per month E3 plan or the $35 per user per month E5 plan.


G Suite vs. Office 365: Ease of Use


So which is easier to use, G Suite or Microsoft Office 365? Which product comes with the steeper learning curve? As with much else in this comparison, the fairest answer (unfortunately!) is probably ‘it depends.’

Because of the ubiquity of Microsoft Office apps, there is a strong case to be made that people using Office 365 are likely to already be familiar with how Microsoft applications work, and be in a better position to hit the ground running with them.

You could also argue however that the simpler, more stripped-back productivity tools bundled with G Suite generate a gentler learning curve for users who are new to online collaboration.

In terms of user interfaces, the Google apps feel less cluttered than those bundled with Microsoft Office, simply because they are not as feature packed. For example, I personally much prefer working in Google Docs to the desktop version of Word, because there’s no load time whatsoever and only a few menu options to be distracted by. My Google document is always saved to the cloud and I can pick up where I left off on it at any point, on any device.

The online version of MS Word lets you work in a similar fashion, it has to be said — but it feels just a little bit more ‘fussy’ and in my experience takes a bit longer to load. But it is unquestionably much better — as you might expect — for editing MS Office documents and saving them intact and without formatting problems (as discussed above, although you can save to MS Office format using G Suite, you can often end up with formatting issues).

Ultimately I think both products are fairly straightforward to use, however. If editing MS Office files is going to be a big part of your job, then Office 365 will feel a lot more familiar and present less of a learning curve; if facilitating internal collaboration effectively is more the concern, then G Suite is arguably a slightly better bet.


G Suite vs. Office 365: Working Offline


Given that G Suite is essentially designed to run in a browser, a key question many potential Google Apps users typically have is “will I be able to work offline?”

The answer is: yes. On a desktop computer, you’ll need to do two things: 1) ensure that you’ve installed Google’s Chrome browser and 2) switch on file syncing. This will allow you to access and edit Google documents, sheets and slides offline; any changes you make to them will be synced to the cloud when you reconnect to the Internet.

With regard to Gmail, you can use it offline so long as you are using Chrome and have enabled offline mail. (Again you’ll need to ensure you download all your mail before going offline). After that, when you send emails offline in Gmail, they will go into a new “Outbox” folder and get sent as soon as you go back online.

You can also work offline using Google’s mobile apps — however, you have to let G Suite know that you want a particular file to be available offline first (by checking an option that downloads it to your mobile device).

With Office 365, the best way to work offline on a desktop computer is by using the standard desktop applications in conjunction with the desktop version of OneDrive.

As with G Suite, ensure you’ve synced everything to your desktop computer before going offline — you can then work on any file in Word, Excel etc. and when you reconnect to the Internet any changes you have made will be synced.

Office 365’s mobile apps also let you work offline, but as with Google’s mobile apps, you’ll need to download individual files to your mobile device first to access them on the go.


G Suite vs. Office 365: Security


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. So you’ll want to compare G Suite’s to Office 365’s.

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 “Essentials” view in the Microsoft 365 admin center beats anything in G Suite 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. And it has an Add User wizard that helps you set up email, licensing, roles, contact information, and so on from in one spot.

Interfaces aside, Office 365 offers better admin account security, superior mobile administration, and more management controls. But G Suite supports the key management features for organizations with no heavy compliance requirements. And both suites protect your data with enterprise-grade security and offer a central security center for managing user permissions and protections.


G Suite Security Features

G Suite is built on top of Google’s cloud infrastructure and uses the same levels of security used by Google itself. This includes automatic detection of suspicious activity, phishing attempts, and other hacking attempts.

As an administrator, Google allows you to set different policies to prevent unauthorized access to your admin console or any of the user accounts. You can use Two-Factor authentication and enforce it for all your users.

It also comes with data leak protection feature where you can set keywords to block any outgoing communication. G Suite has built-in spam, virus, and malware detection which scans all documents and attachments.


Office 365 Security Features

Office 365 allows you to enable Multiple Factor Authentication for all user passwords. It also uses their own AI tools to learn each user’s work habits to detect suspicious activities and flag them if something looks out of place.

It includes a data loss prevention tool to protect against data theft and leaks. Your organization can also restrict user access to company-issued devices by using their device management tool.

Office 365 also uses Microsoft’s spam, virus, and malware detection tools to scan all documents, emails, and attachments.


G Suite vs. Office 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 G Suite and Office 365 offers.

G Suite offers 24/7 tech support via phone, email and chat, but for G Suite administrators only. There’s also a searchable help center for administrators and a blog covering release information for G Suite updates. Also useful is the G Suite Administrator Help 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 G Suite. There’s also a G Suite Learning Center for user training.

Microsoft also has 24/7 tech support via phone, email and chat for Office 365 administrators. The Office 365 Admin help center includes help targeted at small businesses as well as enterprises, and the Office 365 Training Center offers comprehensive video training for admins, IT pros and Office 365 users. There’s a sizable number of forums devoted to Office 365. And the 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 Office 365 updates one or more times a month and publishes information online about every update.


Who should use G Suite


Based on all this, what kind of company should use G Suite?

It’s pretty straightforward: If collaborating on documents is baked into your company’s DNA — or you want to bake it in — G Suite is for you.

Its live collaboration features far outstrip anything Office 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.

G Suite is also a good bet if your company doesn’t need all the sophisticated features of Office 365’s individual apps. Each individual application in G Suite is simpler to use than Office 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 Office 365 has to offer.


Who should use Office 365


If powerful and sophisticated features are more important to you than the best in collaboration, then Office 365 is for you.

Every one of its applications beats out its G Suite equivalent. And it’s not as if you can’t do live collaboration in Office 365. It’s just a bit more of a chore and not as straightforward as in G Suite. And Office 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 Office 365 as well. Although G Suite’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 Office 365. And Microsoft Teams provides a great way for teams to share work with one another.


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