Microsoft Office 365 vs. Google Apps: In Pictures

Join us for a closer look at how these two cloud-based office suites compare.

Microsoft Office 365 vs. Google Apps

Office 365 is Microsoft's Office suite in the cloud, and much more. The tools bundle desktop and Web software, and they compete with the purely cloud-based Google Apps for Business. They're expected to become available in final form Tuesday, some two months after a public beta release.

Among the differences we found in our tests: Google Apps, which includes the free Google Docs tools, plays nicely in any browser. But Office 365 works best in Internet Explorer, as it transitions easily from editing in the browser to opening a document in the desktop version of Office. Google Apps integrates well with Android phones, while Office 365 and SharePoint work best in the Office hub of Windows Phone 7 handsets. Here's a closer look at how Microsoft's and Google's business productivity packages work, both on the desktop and on smartphones.

Main Documents List in the Browser

Users organize and share Office 365 documents through SharePoint for group collaboration and editing. You can organize files into folders, and you can open documents directly from the Web interface or check them out and work on them locally. Google Apps natively supports sharing and collaboration without need for a tool such as SharePoint. Users organize Google documents into collections rather than folders, and you can include a document in more than one collection at a time. Editing occurs entirely in the browser, though you have the option of downloading copies of the files to edit them in offline office applications such as Microsoft Word.

Main Screens on the Mobile Side

The Office hub in Windows Phone 7 opens to OneNote, which syncs with SkyDrive. Until the Mango OS update arrives, only OneNote notebooks will sync from SkyDrive. In handling other documents, you must either share them through SharePoint, or keep them locally on the phone. Google's official Docs app for Android opens to shortcuts for All Items, Starred Items, Collections, and other groupings.

Document Lists on Mobile

If you want to share Word and Excel files with the Office Hub on a Windows phone, you must do so through SharePoint. The Mango update will bring SkyDrive integration to the Office Hub; but for now, SharePoint is the way to go. Google Docs lists documents sorted by the time of the last update.

Word Documents in the Browser

By default, a Word document stored on your Team Site in SharePoint will open in the browser for quick editing. The familiar ribbon interface is there with most of the often used options. Whether you create a document in Word or one created in Google Docs, it will preserve its layout nicely. The Google Docs editor relies on a more traditional series of menu items and options. Word in SharePoint has an option that lets you open the document in Word, whereas with Google Docs you would have to download a copy of the document for offline editing in another office suite.

Word Documents in Word

If you have your Word document open in Internet Explorer, clicking the 'Open in Word' button will cause the document to do just that. Any other browser will notify you that you need a browser that supports opening files directly from the Office Web Apps. Opening the document in desktop Word software gives you access to robust revision tracking, ink tools if you're on a tablet, and other advanced tools. Google Docs promises to bring back offline support in the future--perhaps even later this year.

Word Documents on Mobile

Some formatting moves around, and some elements may not stay lined up exactly as they are on the desktop, when you open a document in the Office Hub on Windows Phone 7; nevertheless, editing is easy. My top title didn't remain right-aligned in the mobile view, but it reappeared there when I reopened the file in the desktop program or in the Web interface. The top title stayed where it belonged in the Google Docs document.

Editing in Mobile Word

On each platform, the main editing limitation is the quality of the onscreen keyboard. Though the Android keyboard blocks less of the document, its keys are smaller and therefore harder to hit.You can pair either phone with a Bluetooth keyboard if you want to enter a lot of text, but you won't be able to hide the onscreen keyboard.

Excel and Spreadsheets

Oddly enough, Office 365 doesn't let you edit spreadsheets in a browser. It works fine in the Office Live Web app for spreadsheets in SkyDrive; but click on an Excel spreadsheet in SharePoint, and it will open in Excel. If you happen to be using an unsupported browser, the browser will simply download the spreadsheet. Google Docs handles spreadsheets in the browser just fine, though the full desktop version of Excel offers more options.

Mobile Spreadsheets

Though spreadsheets render well in both versions, beware of opening a Google spreadsheet on a Windows phone--the result is not so pretty. The spreadsheet may look small on the Windows Phone in the default view, but both spreadsheets respond well to pinch-to-zoom gestures.

Mobile Spreadsheet Editing

You can select and edit cells directly on a Windows 7 phone. In Google Docs, have to submit edits via the app, and then refresh the spreadsheet to reflect the changes. Clicking to edit a cell on a Windows Phone 7 device will call up the numeric keyboard by default, whereas the Android phone gives you the QWERTY keyboard first.

PowerPoint and Presentations on the Web

Presentation editing is similar on the two Web-based options. Google Docs works more or less the same in any browser, but you'll need to use Internet Explorer if you want to send your presentation directly to the desktop version of PowerPoint.

Presentations vs. PowerPoint on the Desktop

When you click 'Open in PowerPoint', you gain access to the more robust editing tools of the full desktop application. The Internet continues to host the document, however, and changes save straight back to the Web version of the presentation.

Presentations on the Phone

Presentation tools on mobile phones are relatively limited. The main difference in how Windows Phone and Android clients handle a presentation is that the Windows phone will open a PowerPoint presentation only in landscape orientation. In contrast, Word and Excel files can rotate between landscape and portrait.

Note-Taking on the Desktop

Though Microsoft doesn't heavily publicize OneNote, the app does a comprehensive job of storing notes. OneNote files are the only kind that the Office Hub on a Windows phone can open directly from SkyDrive. You can mix links, text, pictures, audio, video, and even ink (though the only way you can see ink is in the desktop OneNote, not in its Web or mobile versions). Google has a product called Notebook, but I couldn't get it to do much. As an alternative online note-taking tool, I would turn to Evernote, which supports mixed media and is available on many platforms.


Office 365 offers Web access to an Outlook calendar as well as to a SharePoint calendar for the Team. Google provides a system of personal and shared calendars to coordinate interactions among members of the group. All calendars include a color coding option to help you keep track of where you need to be for what group and when.

Task Management

Outlook on the Web has a simple task list that resembles Google's sidebar tasks in the calendar. But when you work with a SharePoint site, the task management is much more advanced.


Email messages look similar whether you view them in Outlook for the Web or in Gmail's Web interface. Even so, the organizational tools are quite different. Email messages in Gmail are sorted by labels, whereas those in in Outlook live in folders.

Apps Marketplaces

Both Microsoft and Google extend their online offerings with app marketplaces. Among the apps are tools for project management, time tracking, and meeting assistance.

Video Chat and Conference Calling

Video chat is available in both Office 365 and Google Apps. In Google, you chat as an extension of Gmail. With Microsoft, video chats occur through a program called Lync. You can chat via video while viewing a document.

(Image credit: Microsoft, Google)

More About Office 365

Here are three other discussions of Office 365 that you may find helpful:

• "Microsoft Office 365 vs. Google Apps for Business: Cloud Showdown" (article)

• "Microsoft Office 365 Beta Opens to the Public: Hands-On Tour" (slideshow)

• "Microsoft Office 365's Back-End Tools: No IT Pro Required" (slideshow)

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