For a couple of years now, people have been comparing Google Apps for Business and Office 365. One of the common perceptions from the pro-Google side has been that most people on use 15% of the functionality within the Office software. They expand the conversation to state that the most commonly used spreadsheet features are in Google sheets, and as of late, that is possibly true. A lot of people just use the same 15% of features over and over.

Some businesses can probably get by with most of what Google Apps for Business offers. This selling premise bothers me though and raises a few questions. Is your business only operating at 15% of what it could do by going with Google Apps and, better yet, if you have Office, are people taking advantage of more than 15%?

Cost
As much as I’d like to stray this conversation away from cost, this is foremost on people’s mind. Here’s what we can talk about – the hard costs. It is most fair to compare the base Google plan to the base Microsoft plan. Guess what? Both are $5/user/month! In my experience though, companies who choose Office 365 don’t go with this plan. People who choose Office want the Office desktop software, not just web based productivity tools.

The price for the popular Office 365 E3 plan is $20/user/month compared to Google Apps for Business with unlimited storage and Vault at $10/user/month. The big difference here is the Office software itself of course. For $20/user/month, you can run Office on up to 5 PCs or Macs and have up to 5 mobile and tablet versions anywhere (not including Office Web Apps which works via any browser).

So, is Office worth an extra $10/user/month? Well, Google supporters would have you believe that it is not. After all, that 15% usage creeps in. If Google has only focused on these features though, why isn’t the price for the base Google Apps 15% of the Office 365 E3 plan?

Let’s look at some ways Microsoft makes up for this price difference and how the usage matters. Full Disclosure – I have used both Google Apps for Business and Office 365 in a professional setting.

Email
This is where Google Apps for Business was born and where Microsoft has dominated over the last 20 years. Google Mail has been around since 2004. The other non-mail Google services have been stacked on over the years. Heck, even Microsoft used GMail in an augmented reality game for Halo 2 (that’s how I scored an invite).

Here’s one thing Google understood early on. People get a TON of email. In order to deal with it, they need a LOT of mailbox storage. I remember watching the GB counter every day with much email storage I could get with my free GMail account and comparing it to my 100MB corporate account.

Google’s solution: Search your email, don’t worry about organization or filing.

On the flip side, Microsoft understood something else. People get a TON of email. Email is content. Not all content should be consumed via email and there are different ways to foster collaboration. This is what I see when I look at Office 365 today. Different solutions for different content.

Microsoft’s solution: Put content in the right location and collaborate more effectively. Besides that, organize and prioritize your email. Microsoft knows though that not every corporate culture is savvy in dealing with email content, which is why there are tools to help you, as the recipient, prioritize and clean-up your mailbox (see Clutter, Junk, Ignore Conversations, and Filter Email).

Google actually contributes to the problem of email volume under a horrible guise – search and recall. The assumption of Google is that email is just another mass repository to dump everything and, when you need it, just search for it.

Ugh.

Let’s look at the Google and Microsoft productivity suites and see what else we can do.

Instant Collaboration
Both Google and Microsoft have instant messaging solutions, but they are vastly different. Even with their differences, both work for instant and impromptu communication, determining someone’s availability, file sharing and storing conversation history in their respective mailboxes.

Microsoft’s solution: Use instant messaging as a backbone for quick collaboration, but extend the functionality into meetings, audio and video sharing. Also, make it available throughout Office. As a result, Microsoft Lync is much more than chat, Lync is everywhere across the Office platform. Within the client or within other Office software, you can instantly collaborate with someone over chat, audio, video or with desktop sharing.

Google’s Solution: Just chat, well mostly. Google Talk, which had been wildly popular, was integrated with Google Mail as Lync is with Outlook, but the enhanced features of Lync, like video conferencing and desktop sharing have spawned another application, Hangouts. One thing of note though, Hangouts is not as ubiquitous throughout the Google suite and still it’s own application. Google might be driving towards a Lync-like solution, but they aren’t there yet.

File Storage
Microsoft’s solution: Let people collaborate in teams or spawn collaboration from the individual. SharePoint/OneDrive has come a long way in reducing emails and even file sharing content. This software has been massively popular due to the intuitive interface backed by real time collaboration of documents, spreadsheets and presentations. SharePoint does so much more than document management though and is great at other content management (Discussion Boards, Polls, Shared Calendars, Lists, etc.). OneDrive is more like your personal home drive, built on SharePoint Online and allows for easy sharing of documents.

Google’s solution: Individual file storage and sharing via Google Docs and Drive. The organization is geared towards the individual, not team or project based. Google Docs is really more like DropBox – a simple file repository. Google also has Sites for more team based collaboration, but the end user setup is confusing, requiring more web authoring skills than SharePoint, not to mention, the samples are extremely lame and look about 15 years old.

Enterprise Social
Businesses are starting to leverage social connections within the organization to distribute data and collaborate. This adoption can drive email message volume down and provide a way to easily collaborate with familiar tools from their personal life.

Microsoft’s solution: Familiar is good, natively adopt the best features of personal social media networks and develop an Enterprise class solution. Yammer is for real collaboration and simple broadcasts that are best kept out of email. Sick of ‘Congratulations’ emails? Just look to Yammer’s Praise feature. Yammer is a great place to disseminate static information and the best part is that the recipient is responsible for finding the content. This flips the email scenario on its head!

Yammer could stand some improvements though and better integration with Lync, instead of its own chat client. There’s also an overlap here with SharePoint that folks are expecting will get fleshed out soon.

Google’s solution: Well, no one really knows because everyone avoids it like the plague. With Google, we’re back to Hangouts and Google+, which, again, is just a disaster. Google seems to have a problem discerning consumer solutions from enterprise solutions. There’s a great post about Google+ from a former Googler (watch out for the language). You can see the emphasis on the consumer side throughout his article, but the enterprise conversation (and lack of direction for Google+ in general) is missing.

Good Enough
So, with all the Office functionality, looking at content in a new way and clear cohesiveness throughout the suite, is working at 15% with Google Apps going to work for your company? Office is really worth the money, but you have to make it work for you. Don’t be content to let your end users use only 15% of the suite. Set up some governance and controls to make the most out of your investment. You will find that your users will figure out how best to use the features and they will do some amazing things. I’ve seen it happen!

If there’s still any question about what’s possible, go watch the latest Sykpe for Business video from Microsoft and then go re-visit Google’s intranet Site sample.