14 Aug 2013
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This article was originally published on igroupltd.co.uk.

Google vs. Microsoft: who should you collaborate with?

Back in 1998, when Google was established, you would have had no problem telling it apart from Microsoft. Google was an upstart Web company trying to redefine search and Microsoft was the powerhouse software house with a monopoly on the market. Now, however, although we still view Google as primarily a search company and Microsoft as ‘the’ operating system manufacturer, things aren’t nearly so clear-cut. Both organisations have hugely varied portfolios.

Today, Google and Microsoft are competing in search, maps, email, music and operating systems (both mobile and desktop) to name just a handful of battle-fronts. Their services aren’t mutually exclusive, of course – you can use Google’s browser on Microsoft’s mobile o/s and so on – but the two are in no position to scratch each other’s backs as they might once have been.

And indeed, collaboration itself is another area in which they are now competing. Both Google and Microsoft have their own platforms that can be used for collaboration. Google Drive (nee Docs) is the relative newcomer to the party having been established in 2007. SharePoint, meanwhile, has been around in one guise or other since 2001 – a positive dynasty in Web terms. But do they differ significantly?

Yes, is the simple answer to that. And at an ideological level. SharePoint was conceived as a collaboration tool whereas collaboration has been sown into Google Drive over the years. Initially, as Google Docs, it was really just a place for cloud storage.

Perhaps the clearest illustration of the different directions from which Google and Microsoft have approached their products is in document sharing. Microsoft’s heritage of servers and networked PCs has always entailed a central repository for documents and files. Google’s web-based approach has always required a user to own and share a document. This perhaps tilts at how the two organisations can be most distinguished today – Microsoft remains ubiquitous for the workplace and Google for the individual.

With this in mind, it perhaps becomes clearer why some of the other differences between Drive and SharePoint exist. Whilst there is now an online version of SharePoint, it is traditionally a platform that companies install on their own servers – allowing them to take full ownership and control of their data. Drive, meanwhile, is very much geared towards a cloud-first approach.

SharePoint is also far more sprawling, extensible and customisable, allowing large organisations to tailor the platform very specifically to their needs. Of course, it is this very feature of SharePoint that means it requires expert setup. Google Drive offers a more limited feature set. It does what it does very well and leaves little room for confusion or error.

What do these fundamental differences mean? Google Drive to a far greater extent serves the individual, the freelancer and the small business, whilst SharePoint is at home in the enterprise and the big business. Whilst there might be little to choose between in some of the battlegrounds in which Google and Microsoft face off, where collaboration is concerned, their ideologies and foundations mean they are geared towards very different markets.

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