Google Workspace vs. Microsoft Office

Office 365 vs. G Suite: Which has better management tools?

Users don't directly see these capabilities, but they are core to managing your productivity and collaboration platform.

Smackdown: Office 365 vs. G Suite management
Thinkstock / Google / Microsoft

When you choose a productivity platform like Microsoft’s Office 365 or Google’s G Suite, the main focus is on the platform’s functionality: Does it do the job you need?

That’s of course critical, but once you choose a platform, you have to manage it. That’s why management capabilities should be part of your evaluation of a productivity and collaboration platform, not only its user-facing functionality.

You’ve come to the right place for that aspect of choosing between Office 365 and Google G Suite.

Admin console UI

Both platforms are managed from a web interface. Microsoft tends to completely redesign the Office 365 console at least once a year, whereas Google tends to retain the same layout over a longer period of time, aiding muscle memory but doing little to improve the organization of the whole console.

You need to consider administering Office 365 in two different ways: For items like user accounts and groups, or services like Teams or Flow that cover the entire spectrum of the suite, you use the “Microsoft 365 admin center.” (Yes, lowercase is correct there, and it’s meant for both Microsoft 365 and Office 365 admins.) If, on the other hand, you’re mucking about with settings in the individual server applications like SharePoint and Exchange that make up the suite (such as the size limit of incoming messages or an ActiveSync device policy), you’ll be directed to a web interface which looks nearly identical to the web consoles used to manage their on-premises counterparts. It’s a little jarring at first, but if you’re a seasoned Microsoft admin, you won’t have too much trouble.

And the new “Essentials” view in the Microsoft 365 admin center makes short work of your most common tasks, like adding and editing new and existing users, changing licenses, paying bills, and installing Office on devices. There’s even a new Add User wizard that helps you set up email, licensing, roles, contact information, and so on all in one spot.

microsoft 365 admin center IDG

The Microsoft 365 admin center’s Essentials view puts your most frequent tasks in one place. (Click image to enlarge it.)

G Suite administration all happens in the same style of console, so it earns points there, but all of the options and settings could be better organized. You may find yourself jumping around the settings to find the ones you want, especially around mobile and data-management settings and controls.

Office 365 is in the process of moving these mobile management settings over to its Intune device management console, so neither cloud service offers a really good admin experience for mobile devices quite yet — but of the two, the Microsoft Intune service will be more feature-rich, as it will be able to manage Chromebooks and other lightweight computers in addition to smartphones and tablets. The G Suite is more limited at this time.

G Suite also makes you do more work than needed to get to its settings. For example, G Suite uses a slideout panel to change the settings you’re working on. That gives you more screen real estate but also removes the context of where you are working, requiring an extra click to move to a different settings group. Google likes this interface approach; it's in its G Suite apps as well.

gsuite admin console IDG

Changing settings in the G Suite admin interface requires opening slideout panels. (Click image to enlarge it.)

(Unfortunately, Microsoft seems to have adopted this approach in many areas of its admin console, too; adding a new user opens a slideout, creating a new group requires a slideout, and so on. This seems to be the way of the world.)

G Suite also hides some lesser-used options from admins, requiring you to click Show More to see the ones Google has decided don’t merit top-level attention. That risks admins not knowing some management capabilities even exist. The questionable aspect of this arrangement is that G Suite’s feature set isn’t complex enough to need to hide any of them, so there seems to be no need for the obfuscation.

Advantage: Office 365

Admin account security

For account security, Microsoft gives you the option of using two account validation options (an SMS text message or an email) to use the admin console. You can also set a passcode requirement for the mobile admin app.

Google doesn’t add any account validation requirements, though you can manually apply Google’s second-factor authentication capability in its mobile app to do so.

Advantage: Office 365

Mobile administration

Microsoft offers the Office 365 admin app for iOS and Android, which lets you do many common management tasks from a mobile device: resetting passwords, assigning licenses to Microsoft tools, blocking or deleting users, setting user roles, updating user contact information, setting up and managing groups and distribution lists, checking service health, reading service alerts from Microsoft, and contacting Microsoft’s support team.

Google also has a mobile management tool. But it’s extremely primitive, letting you only edit user information, add users, suspend or delete user accounts, and manage group memberships.

Advantage: Office 365

Management controls

The big question is what you can manage in the Office 365 and G Suite management controls. After all, admins will adjust to user interface realities as necessary. Office 365 does more than G Suite, so it also offers more management functions, especially around enterprise-class needs. And the latest updates rolled out in March 2019 bring even more control, such as ways to limit administrative powers to smaller subsets of the service and prevent someone with sweeping superuser permissions from changing everything in your tenant. But G Suite covers the key features for organizations with no heavy compliance requirements; I think you’ll be surprised by how many management features G Suite actually supports.

For smaller businesses and medium-sized organizations without huge compliance or security concerns, G Suite’s feature set is essentially complete. For shops where regulatory compliance is important, or where fine-grained control over many elements of the user experience or server functions is required, then Office 365 is the only choice, simply because it integrates much of the Windows Server system’s management functionality right out of the box.

The table below shows the key capabilities available for each suite. For Office 365, we examined only the Enterprise “E” class plans — other business plans are available but have limitations that make them unsuitable in many cases. For G Suite, we looked only at the Business and Enterprise plans; the Basic plan is cheap, but its limited feature set makes it a poor choice for all but the smallest businesses.

Management controls compared

Note that Microsoft has many other combinations of features and license offerings for Office 365 to do things that G Suite doesn’t aim to do, from information rights management to e-discovery to complete mobile device management. It uses a far-too-complicated scheme of license levels (E1, 3, 5), plans (B, P, E), and methods of obtaining services (“Microsoft 365” vs. “Office 365” subscriptions) to make some of these services available, but they’re there.

Office 365 also has data governance policies, such as for retention and legal hold, that G Suite doesn’t offer, though both let you set patterns to detect inappropriate data loss, which is becoming increasingly important in this era of data breaches and leaks of sensitive personal information. The more advanced capabilities aren’t usually key for G Suite’s traditional small-to-medium business and school targets, so they’re not so much a deficit of G Suite’s as they are a strength of Office 365’s for those willing to pay.

But G Suite includes basic versions of many capabilities that cost extra in Office 365, such as single sign-on. G Suite also offers an interesting capability for organizations with a large Exchange on-premises user base: An Exchange admin’s credentials can be used to detect Exchange users’ free and busy times, so G Suite users can check those Exchange users’ availability when setting up meetings. This is helpful for migrations in the cases of mergers or acquisitions, or where smaller divisions or departments had their own IT infrastructure that now needs to be integrated into the larger picture.

Advantage: A draw, except for businesses with specific compliance needs, or regulated enterprises (Office 365 wins there).

This article was originally published in April 2017 and updated in June 2019.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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