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Google Workspace vs Microsoft 365 (2021) - What You Don't Know

When deciding which Cloud service provider to choose for your business, most people type into their Google search for “Gsuite vs Office 365” or something similar. It’s likely how you’ve arrived at this page.

I’ve read plenty of these comparison posts myself and I’ve found that most of these comparisons are stuck on feature vs feature comparison with GSuite (now called Google Workspace) maybe coming out ahead as the cheaper, more economical option, especially as you step into the Enterprise licensing space.

What these comparisons don’t tell you though, are the hidden frustrations that you can only discover as you start to use it.

“Choosing the productivity suite with the best features for your business is one thing, but often overlooked is how easy or difficult it is to manage the suite and protect your data. Even the best user-facing features can’t make up for poor or insufficient security and management tools.” – Preston Gralla, Computerworld

Let's look at some of these hidden frustrations you may not know about.

Administrator Account Licensing

In every IT environment, there is at least one administrator. This could be someone in your internal IT department, but if you are a small business you may be partnered with an external IT Service Provider. In our experience, external IT administrators do not require any business features of the productivity suite, and as such do not require any licensing.

With Google Workspace, you don’t have a choice to "unlicense" your IT Administrator. As per Google Support “You don't directly reduce user licenses. Instead, you can delete users to reduce your monthly payment whenever you want. The number of licenses decreases by one for each user you delete.”

Well, it’s not very practical to simply delete the IT Administrator account in order to reduce the license count since the account is absolutely necessary for administrative reasons. It's also not economical to license an administrator user when you know none of the productivity suite features will be used. Not having fine-grained control here seems to be a huge miss.

À la Carte Licensing

In addition to the administrator licensing, a key frustration with Google Workspace is there doesn’t appear to be a way to selectively license different users with different licenses.

Let’s say in your company you have some frontline workers, and management. The frontline workers only require email access to stay in touch, while the management staff needs the full suite of productivity applications. There doesn’t appear to be a way to provide different types of user roles with different licenses within Google Workspace.

As per Google support “If you choose to automatically assign licenses for a service to all users, you can’t remove an individual user’s license.” (emphasis added). OK, no problem, I’ll just turn off automatic licensing, right? No. “Depending on your organization structure and Google services, you might be able to override your top-level organization’s automatic licensing setting for individual organizational units.” (emphasis added)

The support article continues to describe how to disable automatic licensing, but if you follow the link in the help article, you may arrive at this sad little page advising you that you can’t. In the screenshot below I am logged as the Super Admin, so it's not a matter of lack of account privilege. I suspect it's because my Google licensing falls into the "not" side of the "might be able to override".

For full transparency, this environment is licensed with GSuite Business.

Not being able to manage individual user licensing and having to delete users in order to free up licenses seems positively stupid.

In addition to the IT Administrator account we have discussed, consider a scenario where one of your staff takes an extended leave: you would want to keep the user in the organization but reduce their license to the most economical choice - for example, reducing a Business Standard license to email only (Exchange P1) for the duration of the leave.

As well, consider service accounts, such as a printer that needs scan to email functions. I would much prefer that I can license these service accounts with the most basic licenses that enables them to function, and not have them lumped into the same license as a full user account.

In an organization, it’s understandable that different users have different roles. As such, it is very likely that those roles require different capabilities and software. Not being able to assign licenses in an à la carte manner shows immaturity of a product to be a true enterprise solution.

Administrative Control

In Microsoft 365, if you know what you are doing as an admin, there are loads of features that are not exposed via the web management interface (GUI) that can be managed via PowerShell. PowerShell allows an administrator bulk management as well as fine-grained management capabilities. It can also be very helpful when it comes to troubleshooting problems.

With Google Workspace, managing it with PowerShell is technically possible, but requires configuration to use with the Google API.

Google Workspace is perhaps easier to “get-up-and-go” with and requires very little upfront configuration. This can be said for Microsoft 365 as well. This lack of administrative control may be perfectly fine if you never encounter any issues that require an IT Admin to troubleshoot. But, the golden rule of IT is always “Murphy’s Law” – Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Having the administrative script interface to manage the environment may end up saving you money, whether it's technical troubleshooting, or during a large scale operation (like data migration).

Behind the Scenes Benefits

Both Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 have comprehensive data privacy and security features on their feature list. However, because of Google’s history surrounding data privacy, it is rather concerning for companies looking to protect their data assets. Whereas Microsoft has been promoting data privacy as a point of differentiation for years, including a full ad campaign in 2013.