Microsoft Word versus Google Docs

microsoft word versus google docs header
Michael Crider/Digital Trends
For the last few decades, Microsoft Word has been the de-facto standard for word processors across the working world. That’s finally starting to shift, and it looks like Google is the heir apparent. The company’s Google Docs solution (or to be specific, the integrated word processor) is cross-platform, inter-operable, automatically syncs, it’s easily shareable, and perhaps best of all, it’s free.

But Google Docs still has a long way to go before it can match all of Word’s features — after all, Microsoft has been developing its word processor for over thirty years. Does Google Docs’ low barrier to entry and cross-platform functionality win out? That depends upon what you need. Let’s break down each in terms of features and capabilities.

Word Processing

To put lightly, Microsoft Word has an incredible advantage on Google Docs in terms of raw technical capability. From fairly humble beginnings in the 1980s, Microsoft has added new tools and options in each successive version. Most of the basic editing tools are available in Google Docs, but users who are used to Word will find it limited. From basic placement of images to advanced techniques like macros and mail merge, Word is the breakaway winner for more technical writing. Microsoft Word can also be augmented with add-on tools from third-party developers. While Google Docs also supports add-ons, there’s a comparatively tiny amount.

Interface

word interface
Michael Crider/Digital Trends
Michael Crider/Digital Trends

The same thing that makes Word a winner in terms of features also makes it a loser when it comes to the interface. Thanks to hundreds of built-in tools and options, finding the right one in Word can be somewhat confusing. Google Docs, on the other hand, is comparatively simple. Beyond the normal text formatting tools and a few extras like tables, rulers, page numbers, and footnotes, there isn’t much to the UI that you won’t find in a basic text editor. For the purposes of learning and ease of use, simpler is better. Microsoft has attempted to streamline Word’s UI in recent years, but it’s still somewhat unwieldy.

docs interface
Michael Crider/Digital Trends
Michael Crider/Digital Trends

File compatibility

While both Word and Docs are compatible with the most commonly-used word processing formats like Word and rich text, Word can import its own files much more easily and it’s much better at displaying more complex file formats across different versions. When using Google Docs, I often copy large amounts of text from Word into the web interface without bothering to import the file itself, then replicate the formatting.

Sharing

sharing
Michael Crider/Digital Trends
Michael Crider/Digital Trends

Word includes editing and markup tools for sharing and editing among teams, and the latter Office 365 versions of the program do allow for web-based editing and sharing. It is a bit unwieldy, however, and users foreign to it may find it confusing.

Google Docs was born, and remains, online — multiple users can read the same document at once, and edit-capable users can see changes almost in real time wherever they happen to be. For sharing among two or two hundred users, Google Docs has the clear advantage.

Platform availability

2015-10-04 06.55.39
Michael Crider/Digital Trends
Michael Crider/Digital Trends

As a web-based service, Google Docs is available on any desktop platform with a modern browser. That includes Windows, OS X, Linux, Chrome OS, and (in some cases) even mobile platforms running in compatibility mode. Apps for Google Docs are available for Android and iOS, but notably not Windows Phone or Blackberry. An Internet connection is required on the desktop unless you use the Chrome OS/Browser app, and a Google account is necessary to log in.

Microsoft Word (as a subset of Office) is available for Windows and OS X, and it comes pre-installed on Windows Phone devices. Free Word clients are available for Android and iOS, and Office 365 is available on the web for modern browsers.

Cost

office cost
Microsoft
Microsoft

As stated above, Google Docs is free in just about every circumstance. A “Business” version of Google Apps is available starting at $5 per user per month, but most individual users won’t need its administrator controls or live support.

A standard, stand-alone version of Microsoft Office is available for a one-time purchase of $149.99, which enables you to install it on one computer only. (Word is not available as an individual program.) Microsoft Office 365, which includes online and offline versions of Word, starts at $6.99 a month. Depending on your work or school, you may be furnished with a free copy, but most users need to pay at least something for Word.

Conclusion

Here’s the gist of all this: if you’re used to Word and/or rely on any of its more advanced features, you’ll want to stick with it, especially if your employer requires its use. While it’s possible to use Google Docs at home and Word at work, it’s not a fun experience.

On the other hand, if all you need is a basic word processor or you prioritize sharing with other users, Google Docs is more than capable. Of course, since the latter is free and the former is often provided to end users by companies or schools, it’s entirely possible to use and appreciate both.

Computing

Google Chrome 70 is finally getting a picture-in-picture mode

Picture-in-picture mode is finally coming to Google Chrome 70 on Mac, Linux, and Windows. The feature not only applies to YouTube but also any other website where developers have chosen to implement it.
Home Theater

Google Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra: Everything you need to know

Google's Chromecast plugs into your TV's HDMI port, allowing you to stream content from your tablet, laptop, or smartphone directly to your TV. Here's what you need to know about all iterations, including the 4K-ready Chromecast Ultra.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'The Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Computing

Protecting your PDF with a password isn't difficult. Just follow these steps

If you need to learn how to password protect a PDF, you have come to the right place. This guide will walk you through the process of protecting your documents step by step, whether you're running a MacOS or Windows machine.
Home Theater

Cutting the cord? Let us help you find the best service for live TV streaming

There's a long list of live TV streaming services available to help you cut the cord and replace your traditional TV subscription. Each is different in important ways, and this guide will help you find the best one for you.
Computing

Intel's 9th-gen chips could power your next rig. Here's what you need to know

The Intel Core i9-9900K processor was the star of the show for consumers, but a powerful 28-core Xeon processor also led announcements. Here's everything you need to know about the latest Intel chipsets.
Computing

Despite serious security flaws, D-Link will (again) not patch some routers

D-Link revealed that it won't patch six router models despite warnings raised by a security researcher. The manufacturer, for the second time in a span of about a year, cited end-of-life policies for its decision to not act.
Computing

Core i9s and Threadrippers are all powerful, but should you go AMD or Intel?

The battle for the top prosumer CPUs in the world is on. In this head to head, we pit the Core i9 versus the Threadripper to see which is the best when it comes to maximizing multi-core performance on a single chip.
Computing

Apple’s latest feature ensures MacOS apps are safer than ever

MacOS is mythically known for being more immune to viruses than Windows, but that doesn't mean there isn't room to make it safer. Apple is using an app notarization feature to protect users from downloading malicious apps.
Computing

There’s now proof that quantum computing is superior to the classical variety

For the first time in computer science history, researchers have tangibly demonstrated how a quantum computer is better than a classical computer. A quantum computer was able to solve a math problem that a classical PC cannot.
Computing

In 2018, the rivalry between AMD and Intel has become more interesting than ever

When it comes to selecting a CPU for your PC, there's no shortage of chips for you to choose from. With Ryzen, Threadripper, and Core i9 CPUs though, the AMD vs. Intel argument is muddier than ever.
Computing

Will Apple introduce a new MacBook at its Oct. 30 event? Here's everything we know

Whether it's called the MacBook Air or just the MacBook, Apple is highly rumored to introduce a new, affordable laptop in 2018. We discuss reports about upgrading displays, processors, sign-in features, and more.
Computing

Apple CEO demands Bloomberg retract its Chinese surveillance story

Apple CEO Tim Cook is calling on Bloomberg to retract a story alleging that Apple had purchased compromised servers that allowed the Chinese government to spy on Apple. Apple's investigation found no truth to the story.
Product Review

Dell’s G3 Gaming laptop knows what gamers want, and what they can live without

Compromise and budget gaming laptops go hand-in-hand, but with the G3, Dell has figured out how to balance what gamers want with what they can live without.