Many education institutions run into a dilemma when trying to choose between Office 365 versus Google Apps/GSuite for their institution. Both Office 365 and Google Apps are free( well almost) to educational institutions for essential services. So the choice between which is better falls to the ability of the suites to deliver needed functionality. Google and Microsoft offer these services for zero cost. Additional features that can be added on for a fee which can become expensive.
We have run both of these platforms in education, and while each has its advantages, they both have drawbacks. The disadvantages are concerned mostly with the technical expertise of the school’s IT staff. As well as, the technical aptitude of the faculty/staff and students. Regardless of which cloud suite your school may choose, both get the job done and allow greater flexibility than most colleges can provide with on-premise applications.
Office 365 versus Google Apps/GSuite for Education Applications:
Google Apps for Edu
Microsoft Office 365
|Data Collection||Google Forms||Office 365 Forms*|
|Document Editing||Google Docs||Office 365 Word/ Word 2016|
|Spreadsheets||Google Sheets||Office 365 Excel/ Excel 2016|
|Presentations||Google Slides||Office 365 Powerpoint/ Powerpoint 2016|
|Email Client||Gmail||Office 365 Outlook/ Outlook 2016|
|Web Pages||Sites||Office 365 SharePoint|
|File Storage||Google Drive 1TB per user||OneDrive 1TB per user|
|Calendar||Google Calendar||Office 365 Outlook/ Outlook 2016|
|Instant messaging||Google Talk||Skype / Yammer|
|Video conferencing||Google Hangouts||Skype|
|Social networking||Google+ / Groups||Yammer|
|Mail Archive Services||Google Vault||Office 365 Protection|
|Social networking||Google+ / Groups||Yammer|
|LMS||Google Classroom*||Microsoft Classroom*|
*Indicates only available to Education Customers
Both Office 365 and GSuite have similar apps available as part of the suite. The administrators for the school can control which apps are available to the students very easily. There are some differences in the apps available in the education plans, versus one of the business plans for either provider. We are going to list the ones available to education customers. Education gets a few more apps than a business customer. For example, Google Classroom and the new Microsoft Classroom are currently only available to customers with an education license
Office 365 versus Google Apps / GSuite Details:
Office 365 offers an online version of Office Word as part of the subscription and also allow up to 5 installs of the full office suite 2016 for education customers. To all user, faculty/staff, and students. This is really where the office suite excels as you have these offline tools. Google provides Google Docs, which is an accomplished word editor and with the scripts is sometimes a better product than its Office counterpart. Personally, I prefer Google Docs over Word when editing online, but when on the desktop. Office 2016 just performs better.
As you have probably already ascertained, Excel is the spreadsheet editor of choice when it comes to Office 365. You can use the online version or the desktop version seamlessly when working with your documents. Google provides Google Sheets for this functionality. Google Sheets is a very useful tool, but its does not have near the development time that has been spent on Excel over the years. After all, the first version of Excel was a competitor to Lotus 123, and the first Windows version was released in 1997 long before the Google search engine even existed. This means as a calculation tool and the ease of using various formulas, Excel is just better than Google Sheets. For most people, Google Sheets is just beautiful and will perform most tasks with ease. Because it’s relatively new as it’s only ten years old at the time of this writing, you can’t expect the same features as a product that is twice as old.
One thing that is an essential feature for either of these suites is the ability to capture data from users. You can do this from either Google Forms or Office 365 Forms in both systems. Both applications allow you to build quizzes, tests or surveys and capture the responses into a spreadsheet. In my opinion, these are some of the best apps in the suite for educators.
Google Slides provide presentation functionality while Office 365 has PowerPoint as part of its suite. Microsoft has also released an add-on for PowerPoint termed Mix for teachers. This allows faculty to easily turn their PowerPoint presentations into videos which can be shared with students. We tested Mix for Teachers out, and while it has potential, there are some bugs present in the code.
You may have a need to allow students to create their Webpages as part of assignments. Google has Google Sites for this feature and is relatively easy to use with a drag and drop interface. Office 365 allows students to create SharePoint sites. It does have some great features with the various libraries available such as Documents that display file from One Drive, but this also means it limited. With Google Sites, you can build a real website and even though it is drag and drop, it creates better code than SharePoint. Google Suite is the winner in this area.
Google Offers 1 Terabyte of storage in Google Drive where faculty/students can store files. Microsoft has recently increased the allowed storage in the One Drive storage product to match. Both offer desktop and mobile clients to manage your data. You can share files with other users, some even outside of the organization if your administrator has given you permission. Microsoft makes it easier to manage permissions in this area.
Google has Google Talk which is a decent chat app, but it’s not near as good as some others on the Market. Microsoft purchased Skype and its available to all its customers, not just ones on Office 365. The business version is available to Office 365 education customers and is a truly enterprise class application. They have pretty much replaced their previous product Lync with Skype. Plus it integrates well with Active Directory and just works. Microsoft is clearly ahead in this area.
Google released Google Hangouts as part of its Google Plus Social Network, and the app immediately took off. The ease of us of this app and the fact that you can instantly upload a copy of the Hangout session to Youtube has made it very accessible. Office 365 offers Skype for this purpose, and it does work, but saving a video is not as initiative and requires additional processing to have available online. Google takes this round and makes Hangouts perfect for video conferencing in the classroom.
Mail Archive Services
Spam and the ability to archive mail are imperative to educational institutions. In fact, it’s the law in many locations. Google has made some strides with its Vault product, but personally, The protection product that Microsoft provides as part of Office 365 is just better. The search is decent, and you can ensure you have copies of any needed documents if you receive an e-discovery or Open Records request. Office 365 also allows you to archive across the organization including One Drive documents and SharePoint.
Google offers Google Plus as its social networking platform. You can create groups, collections or communities and control access to th4e data if you need, but this is just part of Google Plus. Microsoft has Yammer which allows you to set up your personalized Social network. It can separate users into groups and control who has access to the content. This can include management from the backend, so you do have more granular control over the data.
Learning Management with Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365
Learning Management is an area where both Google Suite and Office 365 for education needs improvement. Google classroom has been around for a while and has a decent following. Currently, Microsoft Classroom is in a pre-release mode, so only preview versions of it are available at the time of this writing.
Google has had Google Classroom available for a while, and it can be useful for providing some level of management to your students. It’s not a learning management system at all. There is not a good method for adding and removing students from classes and not a lot of administrator over site into what is going on. The faculty member is basically in charge of setting up and full management of a class created with Google classroom. While this is useful for academic freedom, it has some real problems with the administration and using Google Classroom on a school-wide level. There are a lot of teachers using Google classroom effectively, and for their purpose, it works fine.
Microsoft is late to the game when it comes to offering this type of functionality in Office 365. The product is not even to the stage of release, and only a select few of Education customers can obtain it. I have a preview version, and so far, I’m fairly impressed. It’s built on a SharePoint group and permissions, file storage, etc.. is controlled by that. It can interact with all the other office 365 applications just as Google Classroom, but it takes some of the management a little further.
The management in Google classroom is performed by scripts, but Microsoft is building a system that can be used with script type functions for control as well as a GUI that Windows Administrators will find appealing. Microsoft is also working on an accompanying application named SDS, which allows you to import data from your student information system and create classes, enroll students and assign faculty to classes within Microsoft Classroom. At the time of this writing, the classroom management functionality involves upload CSV file with the data, but there is a PowerShell interface so it can be automated with scripts. It will be interesting to see where Microsoft goes with this platform as it could become a method for delivering instruction that could be considered a Learning Management System.
Microsoft is also working on an accompanying application named SDS, which allows you to import data from your student information system and create classes, enroll students and assign faculty to classes within Microsoft Classroom. At the time of this writing, the classroom management functionality involves upload CSV file with the data, but there is a PowerShell interface so it can be automated with scripts. It will be interesting to see where Microsoft goes with this platform as it could become a method for delivering instruction that could be considered a Learning Management System.
Conclusion: Office 365 versus Google Apps
Now that we have looked at all the features of these educational tools, who wins the war between these two free educational suites? Both Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365 have created extremely useful tools that educators can use to improve the learning outcomes and deliver instruction. Both products have their weaknesses and their strengths. The usefulness for any one institution depends upon more factors than just the features available in each product. They rely on the technical expertise within the organization and where those skill sets lie. A person who is well versed in Google Apps will get more out of the G Suite set of educational tools. While the certified Microsoft Office user will get more out of Office 365 applications than Google Apps.
Google and Microsoft have dedicated substantial resources into their educational suites and its apparent from the continued growth of both products that they will continue to invest. Over time many of the weaknesses that now exist in Office 365 of Google Apps will be overcome.
It seems the real winner is the millions of educators around the world who use these products. Since they are offered free to educational institutions colleges can adopt the product without extensive investment in resources. You basically can be up and run school-wide in a few months with the labor you already have on staff. As long as that labor can overcome the administration challenges in each product and can adequately train the faculty and staff to utilize the products. There is evidence that the Office 365 versus Google Apps war will continue into the foreseeable future and that is good for the education market.