Open Thinkering


Google Apps (Education Edition) vs. Microsoft Live@Edu

Today I’m presenting on the benefits of Google Apps as a collaborative platform for people who work together often, but aren’t physically co-located. It’s not easy to separate fact from myth when comparing Microsoft’s hosted services (e.g. Live@Edu, Office Live) with Google Apps.

Microsoft have, very helpfully, concocted a Fact Based Comparison of Hosted Services (16 May 2010). Unfortunately, it’s rather selective with those facts. Most of them revolve around ‘can you do the same stuff with Google Apps as you can with Microsoft Outlook?’ That’s a flawed question for two reasons:

  1. You don’t necessarily want to do the same things with Google Apps.
  2. You can use Outlook to connect to Google Apps anyway.

To me, after reading several articles (available at my Delicious account) the choice seems to be between:

  • Cloud storage (Microsoft Live@Edu/Office Live)
  • Cloud collaboration (Google Apps)

Whilst Microsoft’s offerings allow near real-time collaboration with Excel and OneNote, pages are locked for editing if someone else is using a Word document or PowerPoint presentation. By way of comparison, you can collaborate and edit all of Google Docs’ offerings in real-time.

Lifehacker, a website I’ve used for the last few years, published How Does Office Web Apps Compare to Google Docs? on 16 June 2010. I quote Kevin Purdy, the author of the article:

In terms of real-time collaboration, Google wins hands-down, because Office offers none.

And again:

Google’s Docs offerings have been on the market a good four years now, so they’ve had more time to learn what users want and need in an online suite. It shows in the design and function of Docs for day-to-day users.

I toyed with the idea of producing a point-by-point checklist here to compare Microsoft and Google’s offerings, but I don’t really think there’s any need. It’s a question of attitude and focus. For example, Microsoft drags its heels insisting on Silverlight installation whilst Google looks to the future with HTML5, an emerging web standard.

So, if you always use the same device, deal in only Microsoft-produced documents and are convinced Outlook is God’s gift to email users, then you’ll love Live@Edu and Office Live.

But if, on the other hand, you like to be able to get various kinds of documents in and out of your systems easily, if you need to collaborate (in real-time) with colleagues not physically co-located, and if you want to be able to access everything on whatever device and browser you prefer using, then you’ll love Google Apps.

You can probably tell by the tone of this article which one I prefer. And I make no apology for that. Rome was not built on ‘functional specifications’ but on passion, enthusiasm and dedication. :-p

12 thoughts on “Google Apps (Education Edition) vs. Microsoft Live@Edu

  1. I’m not a big fan of tick list comparisons either, but do think your ‘comparison’ was very one sided. I like Google and use GApps for my personal domain email, but I still have my doubts that it is the best solution for an average school.

    GDocs real time collaboration is a great facility, but I am not sure it is one that get sufficient use to make it the deciding feature in a decision like this. In addition the WYSIWYG wiki-like real time editing that you can do in OneNote (webapp or desktop app) is fantastic!

    At present I think most schools still have MS Office (and personally I have never found anything that compares having tried all the web based ones, OpenOffice, iWorlks etc), so it is important that users consider GDocs in relation to Live@Edu with Office. Gdocs is fine for basic work but it’s spreadsheet is extremely limited and has no database app, so there are still gaps that would need to be filled elsewhere…

    Also the coauthoring features available if you are using the desktop version of Word are very good (although they take a different approach in that they are not strictly real-time but instead inform you that someone else is working on the document and indicates which paragraph etc they are working on but you are in control of when you want to refresh those changes… Each has their advantages depending on the task in hand…

    I don’t think it is an easy clear cut decision for an average school, and think many may find the transition from just desktop to desktop+cloud easier by staying with what they already know… Particularly as cloud based office apps are (in my opinion) still not quite up to the task of dealing with large complex documents particularly the kind of things I like to do with spreadsheets…

    Live@Edu seems to offer better potential for integration with current services on site, whereas GoogleApps offers interesting potential for integrating with Web 2.0 apps. I’m sure for schools who are ready to move away from the traditional desktop concept and move everything into the cloud GApps is brilliant, but I suspect most schools (and teachers) are not ready to completely move away from what they know and for them, I think Live@Edu may offer a better first step into the cloud!

    I’m sure I will face accusations of being a MS fanboy (which I am most certainly not!!), I just think at the moment that GApps is a step too far for most schools and that none of the web2.0 office systems are yet up to the tast, so the hybrid of Desktop+Cloud Office you get with Office 2010 (2011 for Mac) coupled with Live@Edu is more appropriate for most schools at the moment… In a few years time though things may be completely different,

  2. “I’m sure I will face accusations of being a MS fanboy”You are. :-p”I just think at the moment that GApps is a step too far for most schools and that none of the web2.0 office systems are yet up to the tast, so the hybrid of Desktop+Cloud Office you get with Office 2010 (2011 for Mac) coupled with Live@Edu is more appropriate for most schools at the moment… “I don’t think I mentioned specifically schools! I’m talking businesses, I’m talking universities, and yes, even schools. Why?- Digital divide issues- Microsoft monopoly (online and offline) issues- Usability issues- Cost savingIf you were building from scratch would you *honestly* go with Microsoft stuff in this day and age?You’ll be interested to know that the group I presented to, with money not an issue and with all-Microsoft backends, have gone with Google Apps. 😉

    1. Given your strong background in secondary education I am sure I am not the only one who interpreted your commments as being related to schools, particularly when you chose to compare the education editions which are not applicable to businesses…

      If money was no object would I still go Microsoft? Not for the OS or the infrastructure but for office apps almost certainly as I’ve neverfsound anything as powerful as Excel for quick calculations, not anything as flexible as PPT.

      GDocs whilst good for word processing is just not up to the task for the kind of work I need to do in a Maths and Science classrooms and whilst I would always want access to other resources as well, Excel is great for lots of things…

      I long for the day when web apps are as capable as desktop apps, but till then GDocs just isn’t suffificient for my needs… For now MS combined desktop and cloud looks like the best option for the majority of schools.

  3. I haven’t got OneNote for desk top, and when I looked at the webapp, to but it bluntly, I couldn’t see what I’d use it for, so I’m obviously missing something.

    As an English teacher I’m unlikely to be doing complicated things with spreadsheets and databases, so I’ll take Andy’s word for it that GApps is deficient in that regard. However, I don’t see what MSWord has that other Word processing tools mentioned don’t. Or rather, I do see some of it, and if anything it just looks like cumbersome baggage that is either irrelevant to the school context, or actually gets in the way.

    The most useful aspect of GDocs from my limited experiments with it is precisely that it offers the kind of real time collaboration, and the ‘add comment’ facility that seems not to be there in the ‘live’ WordWebApp.

    Oh, and I’ve just seen that it’s making me download Office2010 which also makes me want to tell it to push off. I’m still open to persuasion if the whole school advantages of MS are more significant than my limited experience, though.

    Anyhow, I’m going to run this debate by our school’s tech guy with whom I seem to have struck up a useful dialogue as a result of him spotting my moany blog post about filtering.

  4. Thanks for the discussion Doug!In response… I do think that that talking about schools is implicit as we’re talking about apps for Education, that said; we are preparing our students for a world of work. I certainly agree mostly with Andy’s response. I can see the appeal of GA in school and am sure too I’ll face accusations of being an MS fanboy too. I think however (and I know I’m going slightly off tangent here but feel strongly about this) that students should be given the opportunities to learn using both apps / suites in conjunction with others. Surely we are preparing our students to be adaptable? By giving them the opportunities to use as many different apps as possible we’re enabling students by giving them access to as many tools in their app toolkit so when faced with problems they can pick and choose the best app which suits the projects needs, their own skill base and preferred working style. The ICT app toolkit should be overflowing with different experiences and skills that students can recall in order for them to best deal with a problem that can be solved using ICT. It’s ALL good! And if I was building from scratch these days – I would want my network to run as many different options as possible for students to gain the widest number of experiences possible – be it OpenOffice, Office 2010, GA, etc etc – it’s all good, just like I teach Photoshop, I also teach GIMP – digital divide as an issue, is an issue and so it is up to us to make sure students get the best deal possible.

    1. Hi Mark, good points all. When I say ‘education’ these days, given that I’m working primarily with FE/HE it’s not necessarily schools I’m talking about! 🙂

    2. Thanks, Doug and Andy especially for all your thoughts. I think I agree with Mark. Choice. I like to promote choice. No monopolies if possible, tho’ I think one accepts that MS have set a useful ‘standard’ with Word. As long as we can save to this when necessary, that’s good. (I would also like to expose my children to different OSs. Eg Linux and Mac OS. I use and prefer the latter, but teach using Windows 7 – which is the first Windows I have ever liked – and I do like it, as it is sensibly more like Mac OS). I know choice means more variety and that can confuse people, but we need to teach the basic principles which are shared by all wps. I, like Andy, love Excel. I use it to do quite a complicated athletics sheet which works out our House results, boys, girls, victor laudarum, etc., and started life on an Acorn running in Advantage (I think that was what the software was called). I am using Numbers on my iPad at the moment and milking it for what it is worth as I think the iPad is the future and very one should have one (ha where’s the choice in that!?), but I can’t imagine using Numbers to do what I can do with Excel.
      I reckon a balance is needed, otherwise somebody else will have the monopoly – Google, for example. (Now I have written this using my iPad, but have had to mail it to myself to post here as the browser wasn’t able to post it….)

      1. I think we think far too much on other people’s behalf sometimes. I hope that, despite my blatant bias, people can see that it lowers friction for the circumstances for which I advocate it.

        I honestly, hand on heart, would not have been recommending Google Apps today were it not for the User Management features launched a couple of weeks ago.

        Horses for courses, but I’m backing my favourite! 😉

  5. I love Google Apps and the new collaborative tools are excellent in the classroom/home/anywhere learning. However I am really pleased that MS have got in on cloud computing. There is nothing like competiton to drive innovation. Google are the front runners but I think the verdict is out as to who will win long term. In fact it would be better if no one does.

  6. Interesting post and follow up discussion. As a Google Education partner company who sets up and support google Apps in schools I am clearly biased :), but I agree with the posters above that choice, and exposure to different platforms is a good things for students.

    On additional point in favor of Google Apps is the functionality available through ‘site’s and ‘groups’. We have set up a full course management solution completely within Google Apps using these for our clients and I think Google Apps will be used more and more in this direction in the future.

    [email protected]

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