Google Docs vs Microsoft’s SkyDrive Apps

The options for your word processing, presentation making and spreadsheet creation needs have expanded significantly with the advancements of technology, both in native and web-based apps. The apps you need for your business work and more are available now not only on traditional personal computers, but also on mobile devices and the web. The two main options for document processing on the web are Google’s incredibly popular Docs app, and Microsoft’s version of Office inside SkyDrive.

In this article, we’ll be pitting them against each other to decide which is better, Google Docs or SkyDrive. Many web app users would be more likely to use Google’s apps, and often not even consider trying out Microsoft’s Office web apps. Instead of bringing company biases to the table, let’s take them each for what they offer, and let the best apps win!

User Interface

There are, of course, differentiating factor between Google Docs and SkyDrive other than user interface, but it’s the most visible since it’s the way we actually communicate with the app itself, and, therefore, the most important.

Ultimately, both apps are a blank canvas for your work, devoting most of the available space to your actual content, whether it be a word processing document, presentation or spreadsheet. Likewise, the other elements are similar, although SkyDrive opts for an organisation akin to the current generation of the native Microsoft Office suite. SkyDrive’s ribbon UI splits up formatting from media, but achieves very little more functionally than Google Docs does on it’s single line of icons. Nevertheless, it acts as a more familiar interface to users who’ve become accustomed to the Office way.

However, Google’s design is much cleaner and minimalist, which offers it the edge over SkyDrive.

Winner: Google Docs

Comparing UIs in the respective word processing apps.

Features and Functionality

Microsoft actually ran a marketing campaign claiming that SkyDrive was better for formatting than Google Docs. However, it turns out that this is only really the case when comparing Google Docs to SkyDrive documents originally created in Microsoft Office for PC/Mac.

There’s subtle advantages of Google Docs, such as the ability to insert images by URL, although you do get access to Microsoft’s library of Clip Art. I can’t even find a word count in the SkyDrive apps. In fact, it’s pretty difficult to come up with anything that can be done in SkyDrive but not in Google Docs.

SkyDrive does have a trump card, however, integration with the native desktop apps. SkyDrive allows user to click one button to open a document in the respective native application meaning, while it’s not exactly automatic syncing à la iCloud, it does link much more seamlessly than Google Docs.

Winner: Tie

Presentation making in Google Docs (top) and Microsoft's SkyDrive (bottom).

Mobile

With the ever increasing mobile and tablet landscape, it’s pretty important for vital services like office suites to abide by an “everything everywhere” manta. Thanks to them being web based, it’s possible to login to a computer anywhere and pick up from where you left off, without needing any physical movement of storage. However, not every web app “just works” on mobile.

Google Docs has a reputation for incompatibility, especially on a wide range of mobile devices. SkyDrive, on the other hand, boasts it’s compatibility by offering up native mobile apps. And not just for Windows Phone; you can get the app on iPhone too.

Winner: SkyDrive

Success for SkyDrive.

End Product

Microsoft has went pretty far into showing the Office ecosystem’s advantages over Google Docs. However, that claim only stands when you’re using SkyDrive alongside a native copy of the Microsoft Office suite. It turns out, documents created in the cloud are functionally very similar in both services. However, the end product does differ and it’s worth mentioning.

The stock design templates that come with SkyDrive look immensely better than those that ship with Google Docs, mirroring the offering within the native Microsoft Office suite. However, more simple tasks like just writing a letter or a basic spreadsheet offer up no cause for preference in either of these two services.

For the integration with native Microsoft Office, and for the higher quality stock templates, Microsoft wins this round.

Winner: SkyDrive

Microsoft's bias attempt at "recreating" a document in Google Docs.

Winner: Microsoft’s SkyDrive Web Apps

I’m going to go ahead and name Microsoft as the winner of this battle. From an interface perspective, Google Docs is a refreshingly clean experience that is far superior to what Microsoft has on offer. Functionally, the applications in both cloud-based suites are hard to distinguish, although with a few advantages in Google Docs evident.

So, why did I say SkyDrive? Ultimately, the end product is what’s most important and what’s possible with Microsoft’s suite is better than what’s possible with Google’s. Plus, with better, more stable mobile integration and natural integration into the enterprise and education markets, Microsoft’s overall offering comes out superior.

However, if you’re not significantly invested already into the Microsoft way of life, you can easily be forgiven for joining Google’s crew.


  • blinkdt

    I’d no more use Google Docs than I would Open Office. Please, just kill me.

  • Mari ODonnell

    The key point is that the Skydrive works great if you have already invested in Office. I have students who cannot afford the office suite.
    Live collaboration is missing from the Skydrive. I can organize student shared files and collaborate live from anywhere on google. I CAN’T FIND STUDENT FILES THAT ARE SHARED WITH ME LET ALONE ORGANIZE THEM INTO FOLDERS ACCORDING TO CLASS. Try finding 300 student shared files.
    I don’t know how you can say the Skydrive is better

    • Edward V.

      Office web app its WAY BETTER than g0ogle and ITS ALSO FREE!!, you don’t have to buy office (desktop version) to use SkyDrive, and its easy to use, In skydrive there is a place where all the Shared files/folders other people have share with you. You can work simultaneously on a document with many others (like g0ogle) but all can be on the web app or some (or all) even in Office for desktop like office 2010 and I can see exactly what others edit and version control… You can sync folders on your desktop with skydrive automatically and edit files without even download it…
      g0ogle rouins the docs styles btw and of course doesn’t have all the tools and options and power as office!!

  • DC

    Mari, from the Skydrive home page click Shared on the left nav to see all of the files shared with you.

    Or create a folder and ask students to put files in it.

  • Doop

    Mari, didn’t you ever look at SkyDrive’s interface? You can see files shared with you, you can easily organize files into folders with 9 levels of nesting, and of course you can collaborate with students in real-time, simultaneously editing Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, and of course work together in OneNote.

  • MSPSV

    Office web apps are free, you do not need to spend on it, besides you can get Office for the students through different Microsoft Academic Programs, for free, in my country it is called, Academic Alliance. I use skydrive and open my docs on the desktop app, when I save changes they go directly to skydrive, no need to download, or I can use the web app directly, If another person in my team is also editing the same document, I’m able to see the changes that person makes, so there is live interaction, at least on office 2010. I don’t like folders on google docs, when I upload a document to a specific folder, it places on the root folder, not on the one I want, on skydrive I choose who I want a to share a specific folder with. So no way you will get lost, but if you want even more, you can create a group. #StyleMatters google docs ruins the style of EVERY document, it makes me waste my time, actually I stopped using it long ago. I prefer Microsoft interface way better than google docs. And I don’t think they have the same features… try to explore Office to it’s 100% or even less and you’ll find out ;) .. Oh I was forgetting, you get 5GB in skydrive (besides the other 25 GB), so can sync folders automatically with windows live mesh, I also use OneNote desktop app, and I have all my notebooks directly connnected to skydrive, with no need to save, or download and upload, i also can use the web app. And it’s great having access to all of these from almost every smartphone… for free!!!! So I invite everyone to keep up to date with the new features Microsoft keeps adding to every tech. Also if you are a developer… ta-taa… Office for developers, check it out! Also, if you are a student and don’t have money (like me) to buy the tools to use this, you can download them for free, by registering on dreamspark.

    • LDCornell

      “If another person in my team is also editing the same document, I’m able to see the changes that person makes, so there is live interaction …”

      Do these edits show up as the other person types, or do I need to take some kind of action to refresh the screen?

  • Lorenzoa (TheExMascot)

    I love Office Web Apps except my coworkers hate that you need a Windows Live ID just to edit files. Microsoft said this is changing soon but, for now, my workplace prefers Google Docs.

    • Donovan

      Everyone complains about needing a live account for skydive, but don’t you need a google account for google docs? When it comes down to who i’d rather have an account with I choose Microsoft every time. They have a much better track record of maintaining an interest in protecting my information than Mr. page’s ” if you don’t want everyone to know about it you shouldn’t put it into a computer” attitude. onenote is about the best application I’ve ever used. definitely try it!

    • JT

      I’m interested to know…why do your coworkers hate that you need a Windows Live ID? What makes a WIndows Live ID worse than a Google ID?

      I often hear that people don’t like Windows Live ID because they don’t want a hotmail account. Fair point, but what those people don’t realise is that you can create a Windows Live ID for any email address in the world – it doesn’t have to have …@hotmail… in it.

    • http://bufferwise.com Adam

      They just released an update. If I shared an edit link with you, you would not need to sign in to edit it, unlike Google Docs.

  • http://2educateyou.com Kathy Van Pelt

    I find SkyDrive and Office Web Apps easy to use and share. In fact, I just shared an Excel file with my Computer Applications students!
    Kathy

  • cjschris

    I find your choice quite insane. Skydrive’s lack of pagination and also the fact that it looks like a text box, compared to Google Docs looking like Word makes it crazy to say that Office Web Apps are better. Plus no real-time editing!

    • JT

      define “real-time editing”

  • ScottishYorkshireMan

    Let’s face it, Google Docs will appeal to those who don’t want or like to pay for anything. Skydrive will appeal to those who just want to get the job done. Ultimately this could be what will cause Android to plateau. Given that a number of developers are now dropping Android development because of the business case that in general Android owners don’t like to pay for content. For me, Skydrive is just fine, after all, I don’t like Google’s new T&C’s and as far as giving them 100GB of my stuff to rifle through, well they can forget that.

  • LDCornell

    When working on a Google word processing doc as a shared file, I immediately see any changes another person is making. It appears as if, in MS Web Apps, I have to take some kind of “refresh” action to see changes.

    In addition, I cannot seem to find the mechanism in Web Apps for rolling back changes to an earlier version.

    (I am much more familiar with GoogleDocs than Web Apps, so I might just be missing how these two features are implemented, but they are really critical to a collaborative word processor.)

  • KHS

    MS Skydrive WebApps have collaboration, and Versioning too… Also, personally, I feel MS’s interface is better than Google’s because Google Docs has too many menus to choose from, making the work a bit distracting, whereas icons in Skydrive are much better organized.

  • Emily

    Not only is SkyDrive’s web apps good on their own, but when they officially come out with Office 2013, it will sync automatically with that, which is a plus. Could you imagine having a full system going? Start a document during class/write notes or whatever on your Surface tablet, go home and review or finish on your desktop or laptop, or go to the library and log into your account on the web and edit. Definitely a good idea for anyone in School, way better integrated into a system than Google Docs.

  • David

    No one has suggested which is quicker in operation – I do know that in a large google docs spreadsheet takes for ever to update – what about SkyDrive

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