In the past the two tech giants Microsoft and Google haven’t come into any serious conflict. Various disputes about pre-installed browsers and software aside the relationship has been cold but amicable. Now Google are trying to push into Microsoft’s heavily entrenched office market with Google Apps for business. The old dog still has a few tricks however and Microsoft Office is taking the fight online in the form of Office 365. So is this another scuffle or the opening salvo in the war for your budget?

Google’s relatively new Apps for Business offers all of the standard software you’d expect for productivity, Docs, Sheets and Slides for Word, Excel and PowerPoint respectively, and they come through your internet browser. No need for local install or individual software licenses. Working around individual Gmail accounts (with customisable @ addresses) the interfaces for the apps are clean and will feel familiar to any regular Gmail user. They offer all of the standard features you’d use day-to-day for word processing, design and calculation but for the most advanced users there may be some functions you miss from Office. They also integrate with the other standard Google features like Hangouts and Gmail messenger. For the creative collaborators the ability to video conference quickly and easily with colleagues is very useful.

At the centre of the Apps offering is the Drive, Google’s cloud storage platform. From here users can share and collaborate on documents with anyone simply with a few clicks and restrict access as necessary. Drive also automatically saves documents as they are made creating an instant backup that can be opened and edited from anywhere with internet access. Worth noting though is that your office now becomes tied to Drive and the only solution when using other cloud storage is some, often unreliable, apps to synchronise the two clouds. Also being browser only Apps can get memory intensive and some of the more complex documents can cause significant slowdown.

Finally realising that maybe businesses don’t want to pay £140+ for a license for every machine Microsoft have made a big leap in the form of subscription services. Based on a per user/per month price Office 365 is tied to individual staff members not the machine they’re sitting in front of. The implications of this for effective hot-desking within an organisation speak for themselves especially as the Office Apps are also now available through any browser with internet access (though the functionality is slightly reduced over the desktop versions.) 365 also includes SharePoint for document management and fairly limp collaboration. The major benefit for a big organisation will be the Azure Directory though. Utilising ‘Single Sign-On’ Azure integrates with an existing server active directory to allow access to thousands of apps including, notably, Salesforce.

For those tied to the desktop, or using the more complex features, the standard versions of Office are available for download at the second tier of subscription and above. These are the standard Office 2013 programs with no major improvements or new features over those releases that haven’t come in updates since. It’s worth remembering that for a lot of people these will feel familiar though, especially the ubiquitous Outlook, and moving to Google may cause headaches than it solves.

Google have stuck to form and kept their pricing simple. To get access to the full Apps and a 30GB mailbox costs £3.30 per user/per month or £6.80 for the top level. For this you get an unlimited mailbox and additional user management tools on top of the basic. Things are not so clear cut with Microsoft as you might expect. They’ve managed to pull one over on Google with their basic subscription for £3.10 but all you get with this is the browser based apps, no mailbox or desktop install. At the next level, £7.00 per user/per month, you get the desktop versions but it’s at £7.80 you finally get a 50GB email plus access to video conferencing and Yammer software. These prices are only available up to 300 users however and if you need more you’ll need to upgrade to ‘Enterprise’ where the monthly sub starts at £5.00 per user. For simplicity and value for money Google’s pricing does make a lot of sense, especially to a startup or creative company needing flexibility in costs and function.

So which is best? Unfortunately there is no clear winner. Google’s Apps is definitely ‘Office Lite’ but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Office has always been bloated with menus and toolbars that the majority of users never need and using Apps feels like a cleaner experience, more intuitive experience. On the other hand every part of an organisation needs to be able to work together efficiently and if one department can’t do everything they need because the functions aren’t there then everything grinds to a halt. The dreamers will love Google Apps, the accountants will request Excel.