Friday, April 27, 2012

Google Drive Vs. Office 365 SharePoint

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard about this past weeks launch of Google's  Google Drive .  Although this product more closely competes with DropBox, is this product in direct contention with Office 365 SharePoint?  I was asked this by a client just the other day.  One of his SharePoint users made a claim to him that they were going to stop using overly complicated SharePoint, and start using Google Drive for file sharing.  Although I am already using DropBox for personal file storage, I do use and enjoy Gmail for personal email, and was excited to see what Google had come up with.  

Setting up  Google Drive was easy and intuitive, as most Google products are.  I was not really surprised to see that Google Drive is simply an extension of a relatively unchanged Google Docs.  It allows the download of googledrivesync.exe, which I downloaded and installed on Windows 7 Professional SP1 x64.  This creates a folder at "C:\Users\User Name\Google Drive" that works very similarly to DropBox.  Files and folders moved or copied into this location sync automatically with Google Docs, er, I mean Google Drive.  Edits to these files and folders can be performed locally or through Google's web apps.  Simple permissions and sharing management is done through the web interface.

Here are some of the things I liked about Google Drive:
  • 5GB for Free!
  • Easy to get up and running
  • Easy to use, especially if you are already familiar with Google
  • Access to your files on other devices
  • Can even download as Microsoft Office file types in the File menu under "Download As"
  • The drop down arrow in the search box within the web interface gives some nice filter options
  • Permission choices are simple, which is good for casual users (Can edit, Can comment, or Can view)
And here are some things I didn't like so much:
  • Google Drive does not directly integrate with Microsoft Office client products.  While casual users will find the features in Google web apps adequate, business users will be at a major disadvantage to peers working in client versions of Microsoft Office.
  • Testing a 5MB text file crashed my browser (tested in both IE 9 and Chrome), making online editing for files larger than a grocery list unrealistic.
  • Permission choices are too limited for corporate intranets (e.g. you cannot allow other users to manage permissions on documents that you are the owner of).
  • You have to have a google account to access a shared file.  I shared a file to my hotmail address, which when receiving, required me to login to google to follow the link to the document being shared.  You may be saying, "yea, but you would need access to SharePoint as well".  This is true, but in an office setting, your SharePoint login is tied to your AD account, so you already have that, for free, for certain.  As a side note, DropBox allows a right click on your file system to create a url that you can email to anyone with no special access required (love it!).
As to the point of this post, it is difficult to compare Office 365 SharePoint to Google Drive, as they are very different products.  Office 365 SharePoint is a platform that does many things, only one of which is file sharing.  In addition, Office 365 SharePoint is focused on business users, while Google Drive is focused on individual users.  Comparing just the Office 365 SharePoint file sharing capabilities to Google Drive, again, is hard to do, because they are built for two very different purposes.  Google drive is for storage and sharing of your personal files.  This is one repository of your files, yes, ONE repository, and yes, YOUR files.  This is great if you have a dozen or so folders with mortgage spreadsheets, personal resumes, family pictures, personal pdfs, video from the family vacation, and so on.  This does not scale at all if you have 20 business users trying to access and maintain 20 different files, each with a different owner.  What about 100 users and thousands of files?  What about thousands of users and tens of thousands of files?  As IT Professionals, we all know how hard it can be to get one user to do one task.  Now imagine having to get hundreds of different Google Drive users to each update certain files permissions and sharing every time a new user is introduced to a new team, or every time a user leaves a team.

Even after reading this or other blogs with similar opinions, I'm sure that some brave souls will try to use Google Drive for their enterprise sharing and storage system, and I wish them well, I really do.  But at the same time, I cringe to think about the painful mess they will find themselves in within no time at all, and hope that they don't run to their IT Director (possibly you) pleading for a bail out.  Office 365 SharePoint gives one central location for all users to collaborate.  This central location can be as simple as one repository (one site with one document library), or provide extremely customized experiences with many well managed, easy to find repositories (many site collections, with many sites, and with many document libraries). In SharePoint, trained site administrators are managing permissions on sites, document libraries, and maybe even individual documents.  This is so that the end business user can focus on the trials and tribulations of their own job, not on becoming a permission and sharing administrative wizard.  Using Google Drive to attempt large scale enterprise sharing would have business users spending their time sending individual invites each time a new user requests access to a document.  The documents of an organization will be impossible to moderate as they will be scattered across many users' Google accounts.  What happens when someone quits?  Their Google account goes with them, and so do the companies documents.  What about users that don't have Google accounts?  They may not want to have another username and password to remember.  In Office 365 SharePoint, some power users may start doing more advanced management of permissions on documents, but the keyword here is "may".  They don't have to, as the site owner should be performing these responsibilities, and will probably only give users permissions to do the same if they are capable and willing.

Is Google Drive in direct contention with Office 365 SharePoint?  No, not by a long shot.  If you use gmail for your personal email, and need a place to backup personal files for free, Google Drive is a great choice.  With that being said, I like my gmail for personal emails, but will continue to use DropBox for personal file backup and sharing due to its simplicity and superior windows integration.  SharePoint hands down offers a much more feature ready and enterprise based experience for file sharing within the business world.

For me, for now, I will continue to use SharePoint/Office 365 SharePoint for the enterprise, and DropBox for personal file storage and sharing.



  1. Thank you for this article!

    I'm wondering if your opinion of Google Drive has changed in the year after this article was posted. Since Drive is integrated into Google Apps for Business, it is very straightforward for admins to manage document ownership and permissions when team members come and go from the organization.

    Also, with Google Drive Apps in the Chrome Web Store, do you think the service has evolved into a platform that better competes with SharePoint for the enterprise?

  2. Hi Steven,

    I have unfortunately not yet had a chance to work with Google Apps for Business. With the release of SharePoint 2013 and the Office 365 SharePoint update right around the corner, I will probably not venture into the Google Apps realm anytime soon. My clients are fully committed to the Microsoft stack for the time being. It will, however, be interesting to see how others choices such as Google Apps for Business will compete in this space in the years to come.


  3. I have been a SharePoint user for quite sometime. Currently, I migrated to a free SharePoint 2013 site with and I have been offered the best till now.