When assessing a new client, I am often faced with a patchwork of software used for a variety of purposes. They may use Gmail for email and Microsoft Word for their word processor. They prepare PowerPoint decks but use Google Sheets for their spreadsheets. While it is possible to function in such environments, they create unavoidable inefficiencies ranging from simple confusion to far more serious interoperability challenges. In fact, I find such environments so intolerable, I typically insist that my clients select one or the other before I commence work. This post is designed to provide information that would be useful when making that decision.
About the platforms.
I assume that you will be using the business version of Google’s set of applications called G Suite or Microsoft Office 365. The G Suite’s ‘Business’ plan is currently priced at $12 per user per month or $144 per user per year. The comparable Microsoft product (Business Premium) is currently priced at $12.50 per user per month or $150 per user per year. I consider this price differential inconsequential and thus, a wash.
Both platforms offer a full complement of business software products including, among others, email, calendars, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, etc. They offer more than adequate cloud storage (at least one terabyte per user) and a full slate of communication services such as online meetings, chat management, team management, and filing sharing that permits document tracking and changes. Finally, each company provides solid administrative controls (basically, who gets to see what and under what circumstances).
So, what’s the difference?
Considering all of the forgoing, both companies seem to offer nearly identical services so how does a business owner make the decision. Here is where I am going to point out my own bias. I am a long-term Microsoft user (and most of the time, a fan). That said, my bias stems from the fact that I was using a computer long before the internet became ubiquitous and, as a result, I prefer having fully functional applications that do not require an internet connection.
While the preceding paragraph clearly demonstrates my bias, it also represents the single greatest distinction between Google and Microsoft. Microsoft was around long before this whole “interweb” fad started (it’s not going to last much longer). As a result, although all its applications can be accessed online, they are also available without an internet connection (of course, if all your files are stored in the cloud, this advantage is negated). Google, on the other hand, is a pure child of the internet. While you can use some of its applications offline, the process is somewhat cumbersome (see this for step-by-step instructions). These days, internet access is nearly always available (but remember, nearly is not always) so for most users, it may not be a significant issue.
How about capabilities?
Having worked extensively with both suites, I can say with some authority that neither has a significant advantage with regard to the vast majority of common use cases. You want to create a fillable document template that you will use frequently, no problem. Generate a pivot table summarizing monthly sales? Have at it. Make that perfect presentation deck that will land the client? Yep. Send an email to everyone on your team? Sure. That said, there are subtle but important differences.
Spreadsheets are a necessary part of most business operations. While your CRM software may be able to generate lovely reports, when you need to get into the weeds analyzing large data sets on the fly, nothing beats a spreadsheet (and yes, I’m talking to you database geeks too). MS Excel is the reigning king of spreadsheets. That’s not to say that Google Sheets is inept, just that the spreadsheet ecosystem is Excel centric. There are entire websites devoted to making Excel dance (see www.chandoo.org for example). If it can be done in a spreadsheet, there’s someone who has figured out how to do it in Excel.
Similar logic applies to MS Word vs. Google Docs. While not quite as dramatic, in the professional space, Word is the program of choice. This fact becomes particularly important because Word is frequently used by other programs to generate documents. In the legal industry, for example, nearly every major case management program interfaces with Word. Simply put, as with Excel, Word is the standard for word processors.
MS Powerpoint is another example where a Microsoft
application is the industry standard.
Google Presentations can match Powerpoint at nearly everything but
Powerpoint is like
Q-Tips. When you need to clean your ears, you look for a Q-Tip, not a cotton swab. When you want to make slides for a presentation, it’s a Powerpoint deck, not a slide deck.
In the forgoing three applications, Microsoft is currently dominant. That doesn’t mean things can’t change but for the moment, if your business relies on spreadsheets, word processing, and presentations, Microsoft wears the crown.
So, if Microsoft is so great, why should I consider Google?
That’s a really good question. For one thing, it’s the future. Old farts like me are a dying breed. I like my local applications and files. My 17 year old son though does nearly everything online. While Microsoft’s applications are all available online, their offerings are not as seamless as those provided by Google.
For another thing, beyond the big three applications (Excel, Word and Powerpoint), Google pretty much equals or exceeds most of Microsoft’s offerings. Assuming you are using G Suite and have set up your own domain, Gmail is MS Outlook’s match (I still prefer Outlook). Google’s calendar application is arguably easier to use and more functional and Google’s communications suite is excellent. Perhaps of greatest importance is Google’s completely seamless integration with devices that use Android (sorry Apple fanboys). If it’s in Google somewhere, it’ll show up on your phone, tablet and PC with no extra effort.
Finally, and once again, online is the future. Local storage of data is becoming an anachronism. My Microsoft Surface has a 250 GB solid state drive. If I wanted to increase the size of the SSD, it would cost me hundreds of dollars. For about $12 per month, I could have a terabyte or more of cloud storage and the economics are moving that cost down rapidly. I have an Intel I7 CPU that is pretty fast but it can’t match Google’s (or for that matter, Microsoft’s) available processing power for most purposes. 5G is coming to cell phones and most urban areas have access to gigabit internet access so even large files can be moved and processed rapidly. Most importantly, the next generation will not remember a time without the internet. Their lives, both at home and at work, will rely on it and that’s precisely where Google dominates the market.
I am and will likely remain a Microsoft fanboy. As comfortable as I am with technology, I am slowly being left behind by the online nature of computing. Microsoft has the talent and the resources to remain a major player in the battle for supremacy in an online universe but right now, Google has the advantage. And betting against Google is probably a bad idea.
Allen Friedman is the owner and CEO of Techaerus LLC, an office efficiency consulting firm. He is also a licensed attorney. Allen founded and managed one of the largest consumer collections law firms in the country and managed over 50 attorneys as well as hundreds of non-attorney staff. Prior to founding that firm, he opened and managed the New York and Michigan operations for the largest consumer collections firm in the United States. Throughout his career, Allen has always placed great emphasis on ensuring that investments in office technology provide the greatest possible returns. In order to achieve these returns, he focuses on three pillars of office management; asset management, training, and automation. His expertise includes document/image management, software and hardware integration, training, and process management and automation. Allen lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with his wife Amy, his children Cassidy and Gideon, and two adorable dogs named Roxie (a labradoodle) and Bentley (an Old English Sheepdog).