Head to Head: Google Apps vs Microsoft Office 365

Office and working offline

Depending on which plan you sign up for Office 365 includes download rights for the professional version of Office 2010, which includes OneNote, Publisher and Access as well as the usual Word, Excel and PowerPoint. You can load and save documents from all of them into the SharePoint Online site included in Office 365 and use the online collaboration features to edit documents at the same time in the main apps.

Depending on which plan you sign up for Office 365 includes download rights for the professional version of Office 2010.

This is a bargain; you get the full power of Office and the back-end servers that enable all the features, from using Information Rights Management to control who can distribute a file to asking people to update a database by replying to email. One great feature for businesses; you can host PowerPoint presentations online and present to a group of people on the Web, letting them ask questions and make comments ideal for training or sales pitches.

Also available are the publicly accessible Office Web Apps; Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote all but PowerPoint let multiple users edit the same document at the same time. SharePoint synchronisation neatly takes care of making documents available offline as well as accessing them from anywhere online.

Although offline access to Gmail and Google Docs (without the deprecated Gears plugin) is still only available to Google employees, Google recognises that offline document access matters. You can run software to sync Outlook with Gmail, Calendar and Contacts, and to move Outlook Notes to Google Docs (though they're read-only, it doesn't sync notes filed in folders - and if you use Outlook on multiple PCs you have to run the tool on all of them because categories, follow-up flags and other settings don't sync fully otherwise).

There's a connector toolbar for Office that lets you sync documents to Google Docs; the latest release fixes many of the problems in the first version, but it's not as polished as the SharePoint integration and converting files into Google Docs for editing online doesn't preserve all document features (the same thing happens when you open an email attachment in Google Docs). You can't edit watermarks, smart art, charts or footers in Office Web Apps, but you can see them in the read-only viewer and they're preserved in the document so you get them back when you open it back in Office. Google Docs doesn't show those details and doesn't keep them if you edit the document. Even fonts and line spacing can change when you move Office documents in and out of Google Docs.

Winner: Office 365. Microsoft's offline support is far from polished, essentially being dependent on SharePoint and subscription access to the full Office suite, but this is also, unsurprisingly, far more capable than Google's cumbersome and crude offline tools.

Mary Branscombe

Mary is a freelance business technology journalist who has written for the likes of ITPro, CIO, ZDNet, TechRepublic, The New Stack, The Register, and many other online titles, as well as national publications like the Guardian and Financial Times. She has also held editor positions at AOL’s online technology channel, PC Plus, IT Expert, and Program Now. In her career spanning more than three decades, the Oxford University-educated journalist has seen and covered the development of the technology industry through many of its most significant stages.

Mary has experience in almost all areas of technology but specialises in all things Microsoft and has written two books on Windows 8. She also has extensive expertise in consumer hardware and cloud services - mobile phones to mainframes. Aside from reporting on the latest technology news and trends, and developing whitepapers for a range of industry clients, Mary also writes short technology mysteries and publishes them through Amazon.