Office 365 vs. G-Suite in a Mac or Mac/Windows Office Environment
While they primarily deal with email, Office 365 and G-Suite have become much, much more than just email. In this article, we’re going to be comparing 2 key products within these application suites: Microsoft 365 (which is different than Office 365) and G Suite Business Edition when it comes to using them in a all Mac or Windows/Mac hybrid office environment. These are the two most similar product offerings so it makes sense to make them the basis for our comparison.
There are some key things to consider when we’re talking about each of these:
- Identity Management – The best and easiest way to think about this is the “log in with your Google Account” or the “Log in with your Microsoft 365 Account”. This is essentially identity management. Both Microsoft and Google want to control Identity and Authentication Management (IAM).
- Email Features – You know both of these products well. Google and Microsoft are very competitive in this space. Microsoft is better for dealing with a GUI front end but Gmail does web based like no one else on the planet.
- Software – Google Sheets, Docs, Forms etc. Vs. Word, Excel, Outlook, Flow Microsoft has a full suite of desktop software that Google will probably never be able to compete with and it’s the defacto standard for all document editing
- Collaboration Tools – Skype vs. Hangouts vs. Duo vs. Lync vs. Hangouts vs. Teams vs Slack. And the million in-betweens that connect them.
- Security and Mobile & Desktop Features & Tools – This is how G Suite and Microsoft handle managing mobile phones, laptops and other devices based on Mac, PC, iOS, Android, etc.
- Other things to consider – Advanced Threat Protection, Slack, Meeting Software, Versioning, SharePoint, Microsoft Teams
Licenses We’ll Use
Microsoft recently released a product line called “Microsoft 365” which is an advanced bundle of SKU’s for services that used to cost a fortune. Generally speaking, it includes: Office 365 Email, One Drive for File Storage, Azure Active Directory (IAM), Office 2019, Intune for Managing Phones & Desktops, SharePoint, Advanced Threat Protection, free upgrade to Windows 10 and some kickers. For non profit’s if $7.60/user (up to 300 users). For Businesses it’s $20/mo.
With G Suite Business, you get what you know and love, you get Gmail for business, Google Drive, Google Documents (Docs, Sheets, Slides with Built-In web collaboration), Google Login (IAM), G Suite MDM and Advanced Android Deployment Tools, Sites, Vault Email Retention (Non-Profit Special Pricing). The Non-Profit edition is free but we recommend you add on the Vault service for keeping historical version of email and / or for any Compliance or Discovery searches that result from lawsuits. Vault is the big differentiator, you have to get pricing from google by filling out their form online.
Our General Guidance
When we look to decide what’s going to be the right fit for an organization we generally look at a few things:
- Does everyone in the company use Outlook?
- Does everyone in the company have Windows?
- Is SharePoint and/or Exchange institutionalized?
If the answer to any of these questions is “Yes”, we don’t even really look at G Suite as an option. If we find an organization that makes heavy use of SharePoint, Outlook or Windows 10, the move to another system can be pretty difficult and the labor isn’t worth the effort. It’s easier to fix or improve what they have than it is to switch.
But if this isn’t the case, here’s some key differences…
Identity & Access Management (IAM)
The best way to describe Identity Management is to use the Image below. There are many third-party web systems that tie into both Office 365 as an authentication system and Google as an authentication system. We would argue that while the user experience with Google is better, Outlook has become much improved. Outlook also uses Active Directory as a backend which is a well-known, well-documented system.
The most important thing to know about Identity Management is that each IAM system will allow you to log into other third-party systems. Users will be able to log into ADP, Slack, Zoom.us, etc. using just their Google or Office 365 Login.
With Windows 10, you can use your Office 365 email account to log into your windows 10 computer. With a couple of tools (JAMF and Intune), you can do the same thing with Macs as well. You cannot do this with G Suite as they don’t offer native authentication integration.
You can log into Office 365 on this screen:
You can login into Office 365 on the Mac Screen. G Suite can’t do this.
Advantage: Tie (Better UX for Google, Desktop Support for MSFT)
This is going to be a controversial discussion, but we use G Suite internally at Proper Sky and we have and Support Office 365 installations as well. Everyone on the team would probably have a different opinion on this but we’ll summarize the key points as succinctly as we can.
- Google is significantly better at blocking spam, stopping phishing attacks and protecting users out of the box. Like way better. Microsoft has better third party security options. If you want to use Office 365, we’re going to buy a third-party security product. Case in point, a phishing email in Office 365:
We literally have to jump through hoops to get that “this message seems dangerous” link to even show up in a G Suite mailbox. We have seen two wire transfers in just the last couple of weeks come through Office 365 that could have been stopped with some better warnings and wouldn’t even forward to our G Suite account.
- If your users use the web interface, G Suite’s search function is second to none. Most of our clients have large mailboxes and simply typing “from:@domain.org in:all” in the search bar will return every email ever sent to domain.org in every folder. If you are a heavy mailbox searcher and you use the web interface G Suite is SIGNIFICANTLY better. Outlook uses the built in windows indexer and isn’t as good.
- G Suite is way better on Android Phones. Office 365 is about the same on Android and iPhone. We actually prefer the Outlook App for iPhones and Androids rather than the built in calendar and contact syncing. However if everyone is using iPhones, it’s a wash.
- G Suite can be used with Microsoft Outlook, but we have some occasional issues with syncing the clients. It’s not a big deal but about once a year, you’ll have 3 or 4 days where you get an innocuous error message with syncing your contacts or calendar via outlook when you are a native G Suite user. Outlook works pretty much perfectly with Office 365 once it’s setup. Overall though the experience with G-Suite and Outlook is very positive.
- Office 365 is much easier to manage. Many of the quasi-routine tasks that we go through; permissions to mailboxes, turning users on and off, sharing mailboxes, shared calendars, read-only lists, etc. Outlook and Office 365 are much better at. G Suite cannot do much of the advanced stuff Outlook & Office 365 can. If you have a lot of advanced sharing and one-off functions, Office 365 is better.
Advantage: Depends. Google as an End User, Office 365 as an Admin or Heavy Outlook End User
With the Microsoft 365 License, you get all of the heavy hitters: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote & Access as part of the license. All of Google’s solutions require that you use their online versions: Docs, Sheets, Slides, Keep & App Maker. If you want native Word & Excel, we have to put copies for each employee, it’s roughly an additional $5/employee/mo.
One other key point where we’d recommend using Office 365: If you do a LOT of collaborative Word & Excel editing. If you have multiple people sharing documents back and forth for edits, updates, versions and tracking, SharePoint is going to be the solution we recommend just because that’s what it’s designed for.
If you use file editing and versioning lightly, Google Drive recently added native .docx and .xlsx file sharing and editing but it’s just out of beta so we’re not exactly sure how reliable the system is yet. The feature is there and it’s available but if you submit native word docs as part of your daily output, SharePoint and Microsoft Teams are the way to go.
Advantage: Microsoft. Office 365 is still superior to G Suite Online Versions. G Suite’s online versions kick MSFT’s butt though.
One Drive vs. Google Drive File Stream. One of the most important considerations in the Google vs. Microsoft Debate can be broken down in minute detail here, but here’s what we think of the two tools: Both tools are file server replacements and both will serve your requirements well. Google is more polished and definitely plays better with Macs.
One Drive has a much tighter integration with SharePoint, you can quickly sync SharePoint and Team libraries to your local PC in a single click. Both tools keep most of your content on the cloud and “stream it” (play it like a remote screen) while you download the actual file. Both tools allow you to select which files you want to keep on your local computer for sync if you’re flying or traveling. Both have nice iPhone & Android Apps. Google has the concept of “Team Shares” which are shares for folks that are part of a team (think Finance, Operations, Legal, etc.), while Microsoft uses the name “Teams” but it’s implementation is slightly different. And both accounts segment out your personal share vs. your team share pretty well.
Google requires that any file that you share with someone else is either globally public or they have a Google account in order to login. Microsoft will allow you to share files for editing with Non-Microsoft account users which is nice. Microsoft One Drive also has something called “Data Leak Prevention” which prevents users from opening files outside of where they have access. For example if a user tried to copy a file from their work PC to a home PC to edit it, the home PC wouldn’t be able to. Right now the parts are rudimentary but the features are coming along.
For Team collaboration, we’re going to preface this with one Major condition: If you use Slack, you’re going to have a hard time leaving it. We use Slack and LOVE IT. It has transformed the way we communicate with our internal team the way we share files, collect feedback, track web leads, share policy etc. If you have Slack in your organization, you may find that G Suite’s Hangout and Microsoft Teams are not nearly as good of a fit and that the money spent on Slack is worth it. We can set Slack up so that you can use your Google or Office 365 Login rather than having a separate login, which makes provisioning and terminating employees easier. But if you have Slack, you’re driving a Bentley already.
Microsoft recently released a “Slack Killer” called Microsoft Teams. It’s built into all versions of Office 365 (Business) and, if you are coming from nothing, it’s a very well designed and very solid product. Google has a roughly equivalent offering called “Hangouts Chat” that is improving rapidly, but we would argue it’s not as good as Microsoft Teams and both are inferior to Slack. If monthly costs are an issue, either one will serve in a “good enough capacity” and are superior to nothing at all.
The other collaboration tools that we need to consider are Skype (which ties into Slack) and Google Voice / Google Hangouts which is designed for doing screensharing. We would argue that while Skype is a solid product with a strong brand and good technical chops, Microsoft has made organizing web meetings with it very, very difficult. The interface is kludgy and hard to control. Google Hangouts, on the other hand while incredibly simple, most organizations don’t find the feature set rich enough.
Telephony in both the G Suite service and the Office 365 Service are just so-so. They’ll improve in time, but they’re not worth really discussing as is.
And of course, sending calendar invites is one of the places where outlook really, really shines. It’s world class. Google Calendar is great but Outlook is the reigning champ.
Advantage: Google Drive for Files (but close). If you don’t have Slack, Teams for Collaboration, Hangouts for Conferencing. Outlook scheduling is world class.
Security and Mobile & Desktop Features & Tools
Generally speaking, Microsoft is designed for the laptop / desktop world, while Google is built around the concept of mobile first. Microsoft has been working with enterprise endpoints for decades and approaches many of it’s features with an eye towards making that feature manageable centrally. Google is more about controlling access to the information itself and while the difference is subtle it means a lot for end users. Google doesn’t generally build full software applications unless they tie into some sort of cloud offering where Microsoft considers the Operating Systems in most of its designs. It’s just in it’s DNA.
Microsoft 365 comes with some desktop management tools while Google comes with iPhone / Android mobile device management features. From an Administration perspective, if we’re forgoing remote management, Google and Microsoft are functionally equivalent. We can make sure that 2 factor authentication is on, that phones require passwords, that we can wipe them remotely if they’re stolen, we can lock people out of accounts and we can find phones if they’re lost (maybe). There’s some extra features for G Suite users on Android but that’s basically it. Office 365, specifically Intune, allows us to control much more on the windows PC side, but very little on the Mac side.
Advantage: Tie. Both will perform the minimum necessary functions for remote devices. Microsoft wins if it’s completely a windows eco-system.
Summary / Other Things to Consider
Right now, we’re amid an Arm’s race between G Suite and Microsoft. Both systems are excellently engineered and have their own set of strengths and weaknesses. It is important to really think about the long term strategy of the organization because it’s easier to get this right the first time. However, you can always move from one system to the other with some help in the future so this isn’t a permanent decision.
Google Engineers can get a MacBook or a Linux box. They don’t use Windows at all. Because of that, Google spends a lot of development time making their stuff work on Mac’s and Linux. Microsoft has committed to making Office a great product on Mac’s but they don’t own the OS like the do with Windows so it’s going to be as good as it can be with what they have. Macs will always support both but Google will do better testing on Mac’s vs. Windows in our humble opinion.
Google’s User Experience design is way ahead of Microsoft’s. Google really considers how the user uses their product while Microsoft has more of an engineering / developer perspective. Google’s design tends to be intuitive, Microsoft’s tends to include the most functions for business.
We recently had an internal discussion of moving our G Suite setup for Proper Sky and to move to Office 365 but opted not to. For most organizations if, you’re going to be mostly Mac but definitely hybrid, you don’t have SharePoint hanging over your head and ease of use is more important than central administration, we’d recommend you go with G Suite.
Summary: While both systems are great, if you’re Mac first, G Suite will make the most sense and provide the best solution. But they’re so close now, you can’t go wrong.