Microsoft Office is a wonderful thing, but it might also seem like overkill for many businesses: depending on whose figures you believe, the average user only uses 10% to 20% of its features. Why pay for features your organisation doesn't use?

The short answer is, to paraphrase the famous maxim about IBM, nobody ever got fired for buying Office. It's a mature product that's massively powerful, widely supported and familiar to pretty much everybody on the planet.

When you buy Office you don't need to wonder if it has X feature - it almost certainly does, even if it's buried in a submenu that only three people have ever seen - and you don't need to worry whether the features your clients love to use so much in their documents will be supported at your end.

Google Apps takes a completely different approach. It doesn't have the sheer power of Office 365, but that's not its mission: where Office wants to be everything to everyone, Google is happy to cover the basics and to do so very cheaply. That doesn't mean it's simple, though. Google Apps has come a long way since its debut in 2006.

Apps and pricing

The Google Apps suite consists of ten major products, grouped into four categories: Communicate, Store, Create and Manage. Under Communicate you'll find Gmail, Hangouts and Calendar; Storage is where Drive lives; Create covers Docs, Sheets, Slides and Sites; and Manage includes Admin and Vault, which is designed to archive and export corporate email.

The pricing policy is refreshingly simple. Google Apps is £3.30 ($5.66) per user per month / £33 ($56/58) per year, and Google Apps with Vault is £6.60 ($11.32) per user per month. Those prices are for standard business use: there's an educational version, Google Apps for Education, that's completely free.

google business apps presentation
It's no Keynote, but Google's presentation module covers the basics well enough

If you're wondering what differs the paid-for version of Google's applications from the free versions you can get at docs.google.com and mail.google.com, the answer is storage, management, support and use of your own domain: paid customers get 30GB of storage space per user and the ability to use their own domain name for email.

Google's main rival here is of course Microsoft, whose Office 365 comes with a number of price tags attached depending on which version you want and how many people you want to give it to.

Office 365 Small Business is £3.90 ($6.69) per month / £39.60 ($67.90) pa per person for up to 25 users; Small Business Premium is £8.40 ($14.40) pp/pm (£100.80pa) ($172.83), again for up to 25 users, and adds desktop and iPad versions as well as Office Online; and Midsize Business is £9.80 ($16.80) pp/pm billed annually for up to 300 users.

Microsoft's Small Business plan is clearly priced to take on Google, and in some respects it outdoes it: user mailboxes are 50GB with a further 25GB of OneDrive storage, compared to Google's 30GB shared storage for both email and files. However, once you hit the magic 25-user limit or require iPad access the cost of Office shoots up, while Google's pricing remains the same.