News Stay informed about the latest enterprise technology news and product updates.

Google the underdog in office productivity suite arena

By now, you’ve heard. Google Apps for Work is no more.

Late last month, Google’s office productivity suite of email, word processing, spreadsheets and other applications was renamed G Suite and equipped with machine-learning capabilities. Google Calendar, for example, can propose meeting times and conference rooms in your office building, basing suggestions on people’s availability and past choices, and the Drive file-sync-and-share app can make guesses about what file you’re looking for.

But Google may have to do a lot more than rebrand and juice up its cloud apps to challenge Microsoft’s office-suite dominance. The vast majority of businesses run Microsoft Office.

Microsoft wins in an apple-to-apples cloud comparison, too. Among the 13% of publicly traded company using cloud productivity offerings, according to a 2016 study by market research outfit Gartner, Office 365 accounts for nearly 9%; Google claims just 5%.

There are multifarious reasons for the gap — businesses love Office and don’t want to give it up; they prefer Office features over Google’s; or they find Office just does more of what they need.

Microsoft 1, Google 0

Jonathan Reichental, CIO at the city government of Palo Alto, Calif., recently evaluated G Suite’s predecessor, Apps for Work, and Office 365. He chose Microsoft’s cloud-based office productivity suite because “Google doesn’t really get close to Microsoft in terms of functionality.”

Moreover, the city found that when year-over-year costs are figured in, Office 365 was 50% cheaper than Google Apps for the same set of features.

His analysis looked at rollouts of Google Apps in government agencies and found difficulties there. The documents patrons and partners sent them were in Word, and Google’s word-processing program, Google Docs, often didn’t render formatting well.

Workers in Palo Alto’s government were also just used to Microsoft and to running things like Active Directory, Microsoft’s directory service. The possibilities for integration with Office 365 were “very compelling,” Reichental said.

“It really wasn’t a hard decision when we did the analysis,” he said. “I thought actually that when we did the review ourselves, when we did this analysis, we’d be on the fence. But the clear difference and alignment with our needs became very easy for us to make that decision.”

One reader of a story I wrote on Google Apps vs. Office 365 took on what is often seen as Google’s advantage in the cloud productivity battle: collaboration.

“Real time co-authoring? Office 365 can do that, and with Skype IM integration,” wrote SoniaC, in the comments section. “Sharing outside the organisation without the recipient needed a login? Office 365 can do that too.”

When Office 365 first came out, in 2011, Google was the clear leader in cloud productivity software, but Microsoft’s product has come a long way.

“Those features that most people think are a Google only thing are now the tip of the iceberg of what Office 365 can do,” SoniaC wrote.

Staying productive

Others stand by Google’s office productivity suite.

“It works,” wrote a reader who goes by WutikraiXX. “We no longer send a boring attached document via mail.” Instead the reader shares the document, chats online with collaborators and makes necessary changes.

Another reader likes Google Apps, but the company she works for doesn’t.

“Unfortunately things like Google Docs are blocked,” wrote abuell, also known as Abby Buell DeBoni, a software engineer in South Bend, Ind. “It is considered as external/cloud file sharing, and we are not allowed to access anything like that on work devices.”

In other organizations, Google’s cloud apps are downloaded but without a stamp of approval, wrote reader Mike Corum, a test manager in Knoxville, Tenn., who uses the online handle mcorum.

“What I’ve seen come from that is the introduction of Google apps as Shadow IT because the users use them anyway, unless they are blocked.”

Sizing up?

While the Gartner study found that Microsoft was far more common in large companies — claiming more than 80% of companies with more than $10 billion in revenue, for example — Google’s popularity rises in smaller ones.

Reichental, from the Palo Alto city government, sees why.

“There’s no doubt that if I started up a little tech company I would use Google,” he said, “because I would just need the basic features, small team, low overhead — quick and simple and meets all my basic needs.”

Will machine learning help G Suite meet more of those needs, lure many, many more customers and cast a shadow on Microsoft’s productivity dominance, in the cloud or elsewhere?

Right now, with Microsoft matching Google on innovation, adding machine learning to Office and Office 365 — and claiming 1.2 billion people as Office users, according to Microsoft’s numbers — that’s a tougher hypothetical situation to conjure up.