Office Online vs Google Docs: which free online office suite is best?

Free online productivity tools are changing the way all of us organise our lives, both at work and at home.

While you may still be using desktop applications at home or work, this type of technology can help with anything from making shopping lists to creating and editing work documents on the go.

Office Online vs Google Docs: overview

Formerly known as Office Web Apps, Office Online offers a pared-down version of the well-known Microsoft Office suite through your browser.

Office online

The three cornerstone applications – Word, PowerPoint and Excel – are all available, along with its Evernote rival, OneNote.

Google Docs also offers word processing, slideshow and spreadsheet apps too, named Docs, Slides and Sheets respectively.

Google Docs and Office Online both come bundled in with Gmail and respectively, so there’s no need for an additional subscription in order to access the free service.

Office Online vs Google Docs: Functionality

Google Sheets and Excel Online have much the same key functionality that you would expect from a spreadsheet app. Both can carry out equations, from simple arithmetic (=7*2) to functions, and both have five common functions – sum, average, count, max, and min – available to insert straight from a dropdown menu marked “Ʃ”.

However, if you want to insert functions more complicated than that, and you don’t know what to type in yourself, then Excel Online has the upper hand again.

If you click on “more functions”, in Microsoft’s product, it displays a pop-up menu where you can choose from a plethora of possible functions.

If you click on “more functions” in Sheets, however, it will open a new tab where all the possible functions are listed, but you’ll have to determine which one you want and type it in manually.

While this may not seem like a major problem, it’s another example of how Google’s suite breaks up the flow of your work.

On the word processing side of things, both Google Docs and Word Online have a similar, broad set of features. One thing that is missing in Google Docs is a UK spellchecker. Or, indeed, the option to check your spelling in any other language than US English.

However, with Google’s product you can just go straight in and start editing, whereas with Word Online you have to choose to edit.

Finally, the slideshow tools. Both Google Slides and PowerPoint Online are similar again, although the latter is more intuitive. Most of the available features are laid out graphically in menu bars along the top, rather than having to dig around in dropdown menus like you have to in Slides.

In terms of graphical appearance, slides does have more transition animation options, but PowerPoint Online has many, many more themes to choose from.

Office Online vs Google Docs: navigation

Hands down, Office Online is the easier of the two services to navigate. Not only is it at something of an advantage through having the familiar Microsoft Office user interface (UI), but you can also navigate between apps easier.

Office Online Excel

From within each of the apps (we’ve used Excel as an example), clicking in the top left-hand corner brings up a menu with all the different apps – including Calendar, OneDrive and, which are treated as part of the same suite – and with one click you can navigate to them.

The service automatically opens a new tab in your browser as well, so you can keep working on the document you were viewing previously and, if you wish, can flick between the new tab and the old, for example if you need to compare the two.

Google Sheets

Google Docs, on the other hand, is less straightforward. Click on the coloured square in the top left and you won’t get the choice to navigate to one of the other two services.

Instead, you will be taken back to where all your documents of that kind are stored. Another click in the same place will bring up a sidebar where you can navigate to the other two, or Google Drive, as well as adjusting your settings or accessing help services.

Office Online vs Google Docs: Integration

As mentioned, when you sign up for or Gmail, you get the companies’ other free cloud services thrown in.

Both Google Drive and OneDrive are well integrated with their respective cloud storage offerings, and accessing them will also give you access to your documents created on Google Docs or OneDrive, as well as anything else you have in there.

Both offer grid view with document previews and list view, so on this front there’s really little difference between the two.

Office Online menu

Where Office Online has the upper hand again is it also brings together the Calendar, People (contacts) and, importantly, OneNote apps with its productivity services. As mentioned earlier, it’s very easy to move between them.

Google’s note taking app, Google Keep, by contrast, is buried. If you didn’t go looking for it, you wouldn’t know it was there.

Unlike Office Online, it’s not displayed in the side-bar menu – in fact, you have to go to the “even more from Google” section of the company’s website, which will open in a new tab, to find it and even then it’s tucked away right down the bottom.

Office Online vs Google Docs: mobile integration

This is an area where Google Docs comes out shining. Free, usable apps are available on Android and iOS, the two biggest mobile operating systems in the world, although you do have to download Sheets, Docs and Slides separately. There’s no Google Docs for Windows Phone, though.

On the other hand, there are free Office Online apps available to download for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone. Where Microsoft’s offering falls down, however, is the iOS version requires an Office 365 subscription.

Office Online vs Google Docs: the verdict

Which of these services you choose to use will largely depend on which company’s productivity suites you use more extensively now – if you only have a Gmail account, you may well want to stick with it rather than signing up to, and vice versa.

However, if you already have an account with both, neither, or are up for persuasion, Office Online, in our opinion, offers the better overall experience.

What do you think? Do you agree with our conclusion? Let us know in the comments.

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