G Suite promises a very low price for businesses, availability anywhere via web browsers, and of course its standard-setting collaboration tools. But can you really base your business on G Suite? We decided to find out through a series of comparisons. This one focuses on the productivity tools that form the core of the Office and G Suite, um, suites.

One big shift that G Suite presaged was a multiplatform work world. Google relies largely on web browsers to deliver that experience, though it uses native apps in iOS and Android mobile devices. By contrast, Microsoft has focused on its native apps, recently extending them to iOS and Android; however, it also offers browser versions with limited capabilities.

Due to those different mixes, G Suite is much simpler than Office 365 to deploy and navigate. But as a result of its web orientation, G Suite is also a much less capable set of tools than Office 365 is. For many organizations willing to leave Office behind, the question is whether they can rely on the productivity subset that G Suite offers. To help you make your decision, we've put together tables on the following pages that show which suites support which key features on which platforms. (We've excluded table-stakes features they all support, like cut and paste and text formatting.) 

Office 365 vs. G Suite: Basic gotchas

There are many differences in how Office and G Suite function internally and in the context of the platforms on which you use them. Some are clearly based on Microsoft sabotaging competitor Google and Google sabotaging competitor Microsoft. For example, Office limits Android users to OneDrive cloud storage, but not iOS, MacOS, or Windows users. G Suite won't open its home page (docs.google.com) in Safari in iOS, but it will open it in Chrome in iOS; of course, you can't edit the document in the browser in either case, so that's less of a swipe at Microsoft than Microsoft's OneDrive limitation on Android is at Google.

These differences could greatly affect your workflows and user experience (and the training and support needs of your users).

Capabilities vary across platforms. Note that Office in particular performs unevenly across browsers, so you may not get all the features indicated here. Because Windows is by far the most used computing platform and Google Chrome the most widely available browser, our web testing is based on the current Chrome in Windows 10. You can expect some features to be unavailable in Apple's Safari and in Mozilla's Firefox.

Likewise, you should expect features to disappear from Office once you leave Microsoft's Windows home base; not only are browsers supported unevenly, but so are browsers across the competing operating systems.

Google's G Suite is functionally consistent across browsers, but you can't use browsers to edit on either iOS or Android. And the native iOS and Android mobile apps are strictly limited subsets of the browser-based G Suite, so you really need a computer to use G Suite for serious work. By contrast, the Office suite holds its own in mobile - in fact, the iOS and Android Office apps are generally more capable than the browser versions on those platforms.

File transfer is generally not an issue. Files transfer well across platforms, with unsupported features usually retained when saved on versions that don't support them.

Of course, fonts vary widely across platforms, so font-specific formatting will get lost. You'll want to use the basic web fonts like Arial where possible to avoid font substitutions in a multiplatform workflow. Also stick with basic web image formats like JPEG and PNG to assure compatibility as files move.

G Suite apps do a good job of importing from and exporting to their equivalent Office formats. It needs to because G Suite relies heavily on the native G Suite formats to function. (This comparison assumes you've done that conversion.)

When using G Suite in a browser, you are forced to convert an Office document to the equivalent G Suite format to do any editing. The iOS and Android G Suite apps can work with native Office files, but the capabilities are laughably poor. You really need to convert the files into the native G Suite formats first. You do that from the More (...) menu: Select Edit as Google Docs if opening a file from the document window or Google Drive, or tap Office Compatible Mode if the document is already open, then click Save As Google Docs/Sheets/Slides in the window that opens.

Brace for puzzling UI differences. Office also has user interface differences across platforms, often where it doesn't make sense. For example, the ribbon bar should be the same across Office apps, but you'll see different locations for the same buttons, as well as the use of a text button in some cases but an icon in another for the same function.

Some Office UI differences are bigger: The ribbon's File menu provides one set of capabilities in Windows, Android, and browsers, but another set in iOS - and it doesn't exist in MacOS. Likewise, the Android version of Excel doesn't have an All Functions list, whereas every other version of Excel does.

In G Suite, you'll see that the native mobile versions have a very spare interface, which makes it difficult for new users to find many features. The web versions are much, much clearer, perhaps because they utilize the very familiar desktop interface of Windows and MacOS apps.

Chrome OS can't yet do Office. Microsoft Office does not work in the Chrome browser on Chrome OS. Microsoft says the Android Office 2016 apps will eventually work in the emerging Android-capable Chromebooks. But that day has not yet arrived.

You really need the business suites to do business work. Office 365 requires a paid subscription to unlock the full editing capabilities in the Office apps, both native and browser-based. G Suite lets you work with files without a subscription, but you'll need a business subscription to manage users and document repositories for security and data governance in the ways a business should.

Cloud storage support is biased. G Suite and Office both integrate their companies' own cloud storage into their productivity apps, for direct access to files from Google Drive and OneDrive, respectively.

G Suite is particularly jealous of competing cloud storage services, so it's impossible to open files stored outside of G Suite and Google Drive in its iOS, Android, and Chrome OS versions. On a Windows PC or Mac, you can of course upload locally stored files to G Suite via your browser, as well as files stored in competing cloud storage services if you have a virtual drive set up for that competitor on your computer.

Office is more open to the rest of the world, though it defaults to OneDrive. On a Windows PC or Mac, you can open files stored in any local or network drive (including virtual drives for competing services), not only Microsoft's OneDrive and SharePoint. In iOS, you can directly open files from Dropbox or Box (and seven other minor services), from the iOS device's local storage, or from any other cloud storage service you have via iOS's Locations file system. Only in Android is Office limited to Microsoft's storage services.

Our test platforms. InfoWorld conducted its tests using the following platforms:

  • For Windows, we used a Surface Book Pro 3 running 64-bit Windows 10 Pro 1607 (Anniversary Edition), with Google Chrome 56 as the browser.
  • For MacOS, we used a 2013 MacBook Pro (13-inch) running MacOS Sierra 10.12.3, with Google Chrome 56 as the browser.
  • For iOS, we used an iPad Air 2 running iOS 10.2.1.
  • For Android, we used a Google Pixel C tablet running Android Nougat 7.1.2.
  • For Chrome OS, we used an Acer Chromebook R11 running Chrome OS 56.
  • We used the current native versions of Office 2016 and G Suite as of Feb. 10, 2017, where available in Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android.

Read on to see how Office and G Suite stack up on all the platforms they support.

Office 365 vs. G Suite: The verdict

It's clear from the functionality that Microsoft Office handily beats G Suite both on the desktop and on mobile devices. Office has long been derided for having too many features that few people use, and there's truth to that. But for desktop users, it has the features that anyone in your company is likely to need, and they work well.

Although G Suite is acceptable for everyday business use in Windows and MacOS browsers, G Suite lacks several make-or-break core features for companywide adoption, like revisions tracking and tables of contents in Docs, cell styles and formula error tracing in Sheets, and object grouping and mobile remote control in Slides.

The differences grow even more dramatic for your mobile users: Office for iOS is very capable and well designed, even if the Android version cuts too many corners. In stark contrast, G Suite for iOS and Android are much too limited for real-world business use. They are dramatically inferior to both G Suite for desktop browsers and mobile Office.

G Suite costs less than Office 365. You pay a mere $5 per user per month for the basic G Suite business package, which has a lot in it: the G Suite productivity apps, Gmail, Google Drive, Hangouts, and device management. The price is $10 per month for the most feature-rich G Suite package, which adds e-discovery, logging, and other enterprise-class management features.

But Office 365 doesn't cost much more, especially when you consider the greater capabilities available in the Office productivity apps. The basic Office business plan costs $10 per user per month for the Office apps alone—no bargain—but the $15 full package includes the Office productivity apps, Exchange, SharePoint, OneDrive, Teams, and Skype for Business. If you pay annually rather than monthly, the cost drops to $8.25 and $12.50 per user per month, respectively.

Office 365's enterprise licensing costs depend on what other cloud services you get from Microsoft. The E3 plan costs $20 per user per month, billed annually, and provides e-discovery, data loss prevention, and other security features, as well as unlimited email storage for archives, and hosted voicemail; the ability to host meetings with dial-in access is available but costs extra for users provided it. The E5 plan is $35 per use per month, also billed annually, and adds phone dial-in for all users' meetings, cloud-based call management, analytics tools, and extra security capabilities.

Google also has enterprise plans whose prices vary based on more services such as digital loss prevention and third-party integrations. The company does not provide list prices for its enterprise plans.

Basically, even at the higher cost, most organizations will get a much better value from Office 365.