It’s 2016, and the cloud is a permanent fixture in schools. So, is it Google Apps or Office 365 for your school, and how do you make that decision?
It’s a great time to be working in edtech! Over the last few years large technology companies like Google, Microsoft, and Apple have been battling to grab an ever increasing mindshare of school teachers and students which has resulted in a massive range of hugely innovative apps and services being pushed into schools at low cost, and sometimes free.
Ten years ago who would have thought it possible that industry leaders like Google and Microsoft would provide huge sections of IT infrastructure at no cost to schools? Of course, these aren’t just altruistic gestures, there’s huge value in getting students at a young age to engage with your online platform, in accumulating huge amounts of data from schools, and building up your brand from within schools. But if the end result is a range of free innovative services for schools — who’s to argue?!
The real war for school technology was arguably lead by Google with services like Google Classroom, and education specific features like Google Apps School Sync
But it’s now 2016, and the rise of Google Apps hasn’t gone unnoticed by Microsoft. You could say the search company’s success in schools poked the sleeping bear, and now four years later, Microsoft is finally providing feature parity in many areas and even new innovative teaching and learning tools. So, how do you decide which platform is best for your school? Google Apps for Education or Microsoft Office 365, and does Apple have a place in this fight for territory? Barrier to entry The first question most school will have is, “How easy is to it set up and get going?” Google Apps is by far simpler to setup, that doesn’t mean there’s not technical knowledge required – you still need to have a basic understanding of concepts like DNS – but overall Office 365 on the other hand is a very different beast. That’s not to say that 365 is much more difficult to get going with than Google Apps
So, your school is looking to take advantage of the range of new free online services, but which option do you go for? In this article I’m going to layout my experiences with both Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365 and
The first thing to know is that when deciding on a cloud platform you’re not choosing whether to use Google Classroom, Microsoft Classroom, or Google Sheets or Excel, you’re choosing a way to authenticate your users. Everything else, the apps behind the authentication system are all secondary. They can come and go, but you’ll always
Intentionally or not Google and Microsoft have created walled gardens of apps and services hidden behind your user name and password. There is no reason that I shouldn’t be able to login to Google Classroom with my Office 365 account
Getting set up
Getting your Google Apps or Office 365 domain set up is the first hurdle most schools will reach. I’m not going to go into technical detail here, there are other posts with that information, but
Getting started with Google Apps is really straight forward. In fact it’s so simple that anyone can get going with just a little technical knowledge.
Office 365, on the other hand, is an entirely different kettle of fish. In fact, in many respects Microsoft makes the task needlessly complicated. Registering for your Office 365 domain is like filling in your tax returns. You’re presented with a plethora of licensing options, agreements, and all this tied into your Microsoft School’s Agreement, there are a lot of options to consider before you even get to the technical complications.
I know of some schools who gave up on 365 just because they couldn’t get through the registration options.
I’ve spoken to one school which set up their Office 365 domain only to realise that they couldn’t install Office apps on their iPads without purchasing an upgraded licensing agreement. Not great.
What is Office 365?
|Office 365 is Microsoft’s suite of cloud applications and services. The main web apps — Outlook for email, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote — are available for free. For an additional cost the desktop Office applications can also be added to allow students and teachers to install on their own PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, or Android device.|
How technical do you need to be to run Google Apps or Office 365?
Part of Google App’s success, particularly in smaller schools without IT support teams, is that it’s really simple to use and manage. The Google Apps administration console is a minimalist’s dream, with powerful functions hidden behind a really clean user interface. If you want to get more complicate and use features like mail forwarding between servers,
On first viewing the Office 365 adminstration page is similarly straight forward, but it has clearly been designed with a different audience in mind.
When you open up the Office 365 administration page you’re immediately faced with terms like Active Directory, Azure
How much does Google Apps and Office 365 cost? Are they really free?
Here’s the real rub which will make the biggest difference for most schools, but there is an interesting change here that will make many school’s think twice.
If you’re just using the Google Apps suite – without Chromebooks – everything, and I mean everything, is free. Any new features or apps added to Google Apps doesn’t cost a penny. At least, that’s the way it has been so far… Schools wanting to use Chromebooks will need to pay a small one off licence fee per device, but it’s not anything that should make you think twice about using these low cost devices.
With Office 365 the core features are free for education users – Outlook email, OneDrive, online Office apps – but additional features, such as the desktop Office apps, mobile and tablet apps, and require an additional purchase.
But! Here comes Microsoft to throw a spanner in the works and make some school’s think again.
Most schools I know running Google Apps are still using the desktop Microsoft Office applications like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint in some fashion. That means most school are already paying a significant amount of money to Microsoft each year for a School’s Agreement.
I’m going to write a detailed post on this soon, but here’s the basics schools need to know about Microsoft Office licensing.
From 2018 onwards Microsoft is changing its licensing terms for schools. At the moment schools buying Microsoft software through a Microsoft Schools Agreement recieve hugely discounted prices through an arrangement between the Department of Education and Microsoft. But, this is about to change. From 2018 Microsoft are replacing the current school’s licensing agreement replacing it with the “Microsoft Cloud Transition Agreement”. The document is really complex, but it essentially boils down to this:
After 2018, schools renewing their Microsoft Schools Agreement will have to pay corporte prices for the software. For many schools this will muliply their annual licensing costs by many times. As an example, a school paying £20,000 annually for Windows, Office, and server software could expect to pay £100,000+. But not to fear! Microsoft has a solution, and it just so happens that it’s inline with their own business interests! How odd?!
Schools licensing Microsoft software and services after 2018 will need to do so under the Cloud Transition Agreement to benefit from educational pricing. This means that your apps and services will be bought through Microsoft’s cloud platform. The only realy difference here is that it means any schools using Microsoft applications in any form will be forced to engage with Office 365 at some level.
Which has the best features and apps?
In terms of feature parity both Google Apps and Office 365 now offer a similar range of core features. These include:
- Document storage and online file management
- File and folder sharing
- Online creation and editing of text documents, spreadsheets, surveys, and presentations
- Real-time document collaboration
- Website creation
- Active Directory data sync and MIS integration
- Google and Microsoft now both have their own “Classroom” products for
The features that were previously waved as Google only – like live document collaboration, automatic saving, shared folders – are now all within Microsoft’s suite of tools. And Microsoft even have a few new tools of their own for which Google is yet to provide an answer for — OneNote Classroom is a great example.
So which is better in terms of features? Honestly, the argument is too complex to answer.
So, if we agree that both services now have close to parity for most features that schools demand. The next stage is discussing which offers the better version of a particular feature. Or another way to put it – which version of a continually improving feature is better. This way lies madness.
Last month Google shut down its Google Play for Education service which provided schools with the ability to buy and share textbooks and apps with their students. This service was announced with full fanfare at last year’s
So, where do we need to get to?
Both Google and Microsoft need a good talking too.
What are the basics we need from our cloud platform?
The big change in cloud over the last 12 months is that it’s the data not the service that’s important. I can now quite happily connect my Office 365 email, contacts, and calendar into the Gmail, Google Calendar, and contacts on my Android phone or iPad. Here’s the deal. All of these cloud services – Google Apps for Education, Microsoft Office 365, Apple ID – are walled gardens. They are designed, intentionally or otherwise, to lock our data into their system of working. There is absolutely no reason I shouldn’t be able to create a presentation in the more fully featured Microsoft PowerPoint web app, and save it directly to my Google Drive storage. I want to be able to use the collaboration power behind The APIs – the bits of code required to connect two services together – exist in both Google Apps and Office 365. It’s simply reluctance to do it.
We’ve been lulled into this strange world where we now expect all off our services to be pulled under one roof. We want all of our services — document creation, file storage, learning environment, to be under one roof, but that leaves us in a particularly awkward position. In some ways cross platform working is possible. I can transfer embed a Google Document within a SharePoint Site, or vice versa.
Remember the days of desktop applications where you could create content in any application you wanted and save that file where ever you liked? Should Google Classroom sway thinking enough to justify changing the entire internal infrastructure and workflow of a school in order to use one app? Is Microsoft OneNote compelling enough to justify managing an entirely separate infrastructure?
The truth is that both Google Apps and Office 365 meet all of most school’s core requirements. We have authentication, we have email, we have document storage. How, as an Educational Technologist do I decide whether How do you make a decision about If we agree that as long as we can provide that core of services to provide consistency and reduce support, and we want teacher and students the freedom to experiment around the edges with new apps, and services, why shouldn’t we? I want my teachers to be able to pick and choose. Now this probably means at the core of the services my team provide we have to
A range of applications that can be accessed by everyone with the school. There are two primary barrier’s to entry for Office 365 — cost, and complexity. If you are comfortable with both of these But outside of that decision do we need to make a decision between the 365 and Google Apps? Why can’t we use both. I want to be able to provide the best tools to my teachers and students, and if one of they happen to be on “competing” services then why not? As long as everyone is using the core services listed above. Azure So, Google Apps or Office 365? I really couldn’t tell you, and I suspect, long-term, most large schools will support both. If you have a good internal support team.