Web-Based Document Software: Microsoft Word Online vs. Google Docs

Joe Reithmeier May 8, 2015

A little while back, we reviewed Google Apps vs. Microsoft Office 365, comparing some of their key differences and similarities as the preeminent business cloud services available today. While it’s important to understand the high-level differences between these two services, in order to get a better sense of which one will work best for your business, you should evaluate some of the prominent applications employees will be utilizing for their daily tasks.

Two of the most popular applications these cloud services offer are Microsoft Word Online for Office 365 and Google Docs for Google Apps. These web-based word processors are primarily used for document creation, editing and collaboration. Let’s take a look at some of the major similarities and differences between them.

Key Similarities

Service Offerings

On a whole, Google Docs and Word Online are fairly similar service offerings. Both applications are available for free with the creation of a Google and Microsoft account, respectively. Both offer 15GB of free cloud-based storage on their associated drives, Google Drive for Docs and OneDrive for Word Online. They are both web-based applications that have cross-browser compatibility.


Both applications offer many of the typical word process features users are familiar with such as formatting, spell check, use of images, footnotes and headers, and so on. Both also offer collaboration tools such as co-authoring and commenting, enabling users to edit the same document simultaneously. Both can also natively view and edit documents from the desktop version of Microsoft Word.

Key Differences 


One of the main differences between the two applications is their offline capabilities. Microsoft Word Online lacks an offline component, and it can only be used when an internet connection is available. Google Docs has an offline component via working offline in the Chrome Browser, and user can work on documents even when a connection is not available.

Another prominent feature difference is in the applications’ collaboration tools. While both offer commenting, Word Online does not offer any kind of feature similar to track changes on the desktop version of Microsoft Word. Google Docs, on the other hand, has both a “suggesting” and “editing” mode for collaboration, which allows user to either make changes directly or have changes appear as suggestions that can be accepted or rejected by other collaborators.

While Word Online offers many features similar to the desktop version—including the robust spelling and grammar check—certain features from the desktop version aren’t included such as research, thesaurus and mailing options. Google Docs also does not have some of these features, but it has more customizable options via its Add-ons. It should be noted that most of the add-on features will not function when working in offline mode.

So how do you decide which one is best for you?

Because the two web-based software applications are so similar to each other, choosing between them is a tough decision. It really comes down to which one best fits your business needs. If you need to access and edit documents often while traveling, Google Docs may be better because of its offline capabilities. If you need a better collaboration tool to work remotely and your company already uses the desktop version Microsoft Office, Microsoft Word Online may be a better fit because of its seamless integration with the desktop version of Microsoft Word.

Your decision may also just come down to user preference. If employees are familiar with the desktop version of Microsoft Word or already use OneDrive regularly, the transition to Word Online—which has a similar layout—should go smoothly. If employees are familiar with Google Drive and other Google Products, they may prefer the functionality of Google Docs. While the two applications may be similar, user preference can play a big role in the way employees can work productively in them. Before making any decisions, consider speaking to your employees to gauge their preferences and as well as the openness to trying a new system.

What say you, Google Docs and Word Online users? Which web-based application do you like best? What are some other important similarities and differences between the two? We’d love to hear your take in the comments below.

If you have any further questions about these applications or would like to learn more about Google Apps, Microsoft Office 365 other business cloud services that can help your company become more productive and efficient, contact us today to speak to an experienced IT advisor.

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