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Grow Your Business Technology

iWork for iCloud vs. Office 365 vs. Google Docs: Which Cloud Productivity Suite Wins?

iWork for iCloud vs. Office 365 vs. Google Docs: Which Cloud Productivity Suite Wins?
Like its main competitor, Microsoft Office, the new iWork for iCloud suite features full cloud integration. / Credit: Shutterstock

Thanks to the cloud, you can access your documents and work from anywhere.

A variety of cloud-connected office packages are now available, allowing users to view and edit their documents, spreadsheets and presentations from any computer or mobile device.

That includes the newly updated iWork productivity suite from Apple, which debuted Oct. 22. Like its main competitors, Microsoft Office and Google Docs, the new iWork for iCloud suite features full cloud integration.

But how does the new iWork stack up against Office 365, the subscription-based, Web-ready version of Microsoft's productivity programs?

And how does the free Google Docs office suite fare in this matchup?

To help you pick the right software for your small business, we've put together this head-to-head comparison pitting iWork for iCloud against Office 365 and Google Docs.

iWork for iCloud: The iWork for iCloud suite includes the Pages word processor, Numbers spreadsheet editor and Keynote presentation maker.

Notably, iWork now integrates seamlessly with Apple’s iCloud platform, so users can collaborate on documents in real time by gaining access to documents via the iCloud Web portal.

The launch gives Windows users access to iWork for the first time, albeit through their Internet browsers. That means teams can work together to produce documents and plan projects in iWork across Mac and PC platforms.

Users of the desktop versions of Apple's iWork suite can also expect a speed and performance boost now that all iWork apps have been upgraded with 64-bit compatibility.

Pages and Numbers have a robust feature set that will satisfy most users, but may lack some advanced features that Microsoft Office power users are accustomed to.

The updated apps have received a number of new features, however, including an iOS 7-style visual makeover, a context-sensitive side panel for Pages, interactive charts in Numbers, and new visual effects and animations for Keynote.

Office 365: A subscription to Office 365 nets you full access to Microsoft’s office mainstays: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Access and Publisher.

Once you subscribe, every document you save is automatically uploaded to SkyDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage platform, so you can access it from any Web-connected device.

Office differs from iWork in that there are no browser-based versions of Microsoft’s office apps.

But users who want to switch devices and continue working have several options. First, the owner of each Office 365 license can install the suite on up to five computers.

And if you find yourself using a computer without Office, you can still use the apps by “streaming” a lightweight version of each app, dubbed “Office on Demand.” The programs install quickly, mirror the functionality of their desktop counterparts, and are uninstalled automatically as soon as you’re finished using them.

Office 365 also allows for collaborative, real-time editing of documents, just like iWork for iCloud.

And a subscription includes a variety of other perks for businesses, like a shared calendar through Outlook so all your employees can stay on top of projects and deadlines.

Google Docs: When it comes to apps, Google's suite doesn't skimp. It offers a fully featured word processor, spreadsheet editor and presentation maker, plus a separate app focused on creating visual charts for presentations.

Google Docs is fully integrated into Google Drive, the company's cloud storage platform, so your saved documents are accessible from anywhere.

On the desktop, the Google Docs apps are accessible only through a Web browser. Unlike iWork and Office, there are no separate desktop Docs applications to install.

Google pioneered online document collaboration when it launched Google Docs in 2009, and its applications continue to offer smooth collaboration capabilities.

Compared to iWork and Office, the Google Docs apps are spartan in presentation. Don't expect them to offer the most advanced features you'll find in Microsoft's premium programs, either.

But for the average small business user, these free, relatively simple apps might be all you need.

iWork for iCloud: Upgrading to Apple’s new iWork for iCloud is free – that is, if you already own a license for the desktop versions of the apps.

The updated versions of Pages, Numbers and Keynote also come pre-installed on new Mac computer and iPad tablets, but users who want to run them on their current machines will have to shell out $19.99 for each program.

Once you own the apps, there’s no monthly fee to use them.

Unlike Microsoft, Apple doesn't offer discounted multi-license plans for businesses hoping to install iWork apps on each employee’s machine. Still, because it doesn't require an ongoing subscription, iWork for iCloud is likely to be more affordable in the long term for small businesses on a budget.

Office 365: Office 365 is a subscription-based service, and Microsoft offers a variety of subscription plans for businesses of any size.

The Small Business Premium subscription lets you pay $150 per year for each of up to 25 users. The plan offers full access to desktop versions of all Office apps.

A Midsize Business plan is also available. It offers full access to the Office suite for $180 per year for each of up to 300 users.

That’s compared to an individual subscription to Office 365, which costs $100 per year, or $10 per month, for a single user.

Google Docs:When it comes to cost, you can't beat Google Docs.

Google's productivity suite is free in the truest sense. There are no apps to buy and no subscription options to consider.

All your business needs to take full advantage of Google Docs is a standard Google account.

iWork for iCloud: All desktop iWork apps have an iOS counterpart that can be purchased separately for $9.99 each. Users who own both the desktop and mobile versions of any iWork app can transition seamlessly between the two, thanks to iCloud.

Don’t even think about using iWork for iCloud on your Windows Phone or Android device, however; Apple does not currently support those platforms.

If you want to take iWork for iCloud on the go, stick to the iPhone or iPad -- with one notable exception. Because Microsoft's Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2 tablets run on full desktop versions of Windows 8, users can access iCloud via either device's desktop browser.

Office 365: A free mobile version of Microsoft Office is available for Android smartphones and tablets, as well as all Windows Phone devices, though you will still have to purchase a subscription to take advantage of Office 365 cloud connectivity. Non-subscribers can still use the apps to view and edit documents that were downloaded or transferred manually to their phone or tablet.

Owners of one of Microsoft's Surface tablets can also take advantage of Office 365. Both the Surface RT and Surface 2 come with full versions of Microsoft Office pre-installed.

The Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2, meanwhile, are compatible but don’t ship with any Office apps pre-installed.

Microsoft has yet to unveil a version of Office 365 for iPad, but rumors suggest it could be coming soon.

Google Docs: Google's Web apps can be accessed on mobile devices in two ways.

First, you can view and edit Google Docs files on any Web-connected phone or tablet in your mobile Web browser.

Alternatively, Google offers a free Google Drive app for Android, iPhone and Windows Phone. Within the app, you can access your files and create a new document or spreadsheet, though the functionality of these mobile apps is very limited.

Office 365, Google Docs and iWork for iCloud offer much of the same functionality, but each has a unique set of strengths and limitations. Picking a software package for your business comes down to your budget, hardware compatibility and personal preference. 

A one-month free trial of Office 365 is available from Microsoft, and Google Docs remains as free and open as the day it launched. But unless you already own a previous version of iWork, you'll have to purchase the apps outright to try the new iWork for iCloud.

Brett Nuckles
Brett Nuckles

Brett Nuckles has been a working journalist since 2009. He got his start in local newspapers covering community news, local government, education and more before he joined the Business News Daily staff in 2013. He graduated from Ohio University, where he studied Journalism and English. Follow him on Twitter @BrettNuckles.

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