(The following is a post by @jwbrigance and his views are in no way reflective of the official views of his employer!)
This is a pure opinion piece, although I tried to do as much research as possible. This is not an exhaustive comparison, in any sense. Also, to be completely forthcoming, I am a Microsoft fan. I have a Windows Phone [as does most of my family, since I am “in charge” of supporting them], a Surface tablet, an Xbox Music Pass for my wife and I, Xbox Live Gold subscription, Windows PCs, and the school I work at has Windows 7 throughout with Office 2010, and Windows Server 2008 R2 servers. Microsoft fan – check!
- Let’s start with the most important piece of information for schools: cost. Google Apps for Education (GAFE here on out) and Office 365 for Education are both completely free to schools. Both have added-cost options, but the majority of services that would impact teachers and students are free.
File Sharing: Free
Online document creation: Free
You get the idea. What are the added cost options for both services? Email archiving, Office mobile apps (Office 365), desktop versions of Office (Office 365), voice services (Office 365) are all extra. Google also charges $30/device for Chromebook management. Office 365 does not include a management portal for devices at all – Microsoft does offer an MDM solution, but it is not tied to Office 365.
- The next key item for schools is email. Both services offer full-fledged email services, including lots of storage space, shared contacts, shared calendars, and the ability to use your own domain name.
GAFE: 30GB of storage space per user
Office 365: 50GB of storage space per user
Spam Filtering: Yes, for both.
Support for mobile email: Yes, for both.
Offline email (read and write email without an Internet connection): yes on both (kind of) Microsoft offers full support for this, with GAFE offering the capability only in Chrome.
Archiving: Yes, for both. (extra cost)
Email reliability: Google does not explicitly give what their uptime is, although for most users, we would say it’s never down. Microsoft’s services don’t go down for the most part either, but if you want a guarantee from Microsoft, you do have to pay for it by stepping up to the A3 plan.
- An item that any school looking at a 1:1 initiative should consider is document creation. This affects both teachers and students, because collaboration between both parties can be done by both services.
GAFE: includes Docs (word processor), Sheets (spreadsheets), Slides (presentation editor), and the ability to read and edit documents created on these from any web browser, on most any device.
Office 365 for Education: includes Word Online (word processor), Excel online (spreadsheets), PowerPoint Online (presentation editor), and the ability to read and edit documents created on these from any web browser. However, if you have Office on your computer, you can create and edit documents there and sync them back and forth as you see fit. Considering almost every school has Office already, and it is the standard by which documents are created (ever try having one of your advanced documents created on another service not transfer correctly to Office? See the benefit of having true Office to begin with?), this is a huge tool for schools.
- The next service that will impact any 1:1 initiative, and will change the way classrooms operate if integrated correctly, is file sharing. This ties in almost all of the above services. This service alone offers:
- Collaboration – users that have created or uploaded documents to the online drive can share the document with other users, or groups, or even publicly. Students or teachers can work on the document at the same time, making changes on the fly that replicate out to other users.
- Grading – teachers can share a document with students, allowing the students to edit the document, and then the students can send that document back to the teacher for grading purposes. Some teachers have found ways to have an automated grade (exams, pop quizzes, etc.) so that when the students input their answers and send it back to the teacher, the document is already graded and ready for the teachers’ gradebook.
GAFE: Google offers Google Drive, a 30GB drive for each user (expandable as an extra cost). Files created or uploaded to Drive can be accessed from anywhere a user has Internet access, from almost any device.
Office 365 for Education: Microsoft offers OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive), a 25GB drive for each user. Files created or uploaded to OneDrive can be accessed from anywhere a user has Internet access, from any device.
This next part is when my opinion really shows through. It relates to the above, but is significant for those schools looking to integrate the technology they purchase with either GAFE or Office 365.
This is where Google walks all over Microsoft. You can think about this multiple ways, but it boils down to this:
Chromebooks are cheap. Literally. The school I work for just purchased 30 + accidental damage for each for less than 15 iPads. Not iPads + accidental damage. Just iPads. No covers, keyboards, app vouchers, etc. The entire cost of the Chromebooks and accidental damage was cheaper than just 15 Pad Airs.
Professional Development in OK centers on GAFE. This one is huge. This is the main reason that the school I work at chose to migrate all of our main services to GAFE. What use is Office 365, and its main advantages over GAFE (mainly Office compatibility), if schools can’t find a good way to learn how to use it?
Let me dig more in to detail into both points here. With both GAFE and Office 365 for Education, students and teachers are given a login to those services. With both Chromebooks and any Windows 8 machine, students and teachers can log on and receive a customized interface for them. Students only see what they have created in Docs, Sheets, or Slides, or what was shared with them. Students only see their email. The same goes with Windows 8. However, most Windows 8 tablets or computers are nowhere near as fast or as cheap as a Chromebook. Put the blame where you want, it’s just the way it is right now.
If you mention Windows 8 machines, IT people automatically think about domains, group policy, etc. So, in this case, the Windows 8 machine would have to have Windows 8 Professional. RT and 8 Core do not connect to domains. So, the pricing of those machines that can handle Windows 8 Pro is much, much higher than a Chromebook.
Take away the need for Windows 8 Pro, and, for the most part, you’re still not in the ballpark pricing-wise as a Chromebook. A Surface 2 (not Pro, just 2) is $449. This machine has 2GB of memory, and 32GB of storage. The Chromebooks we just purchased (Acer C720) have 2GB of memory, and 16GB of storage. They cost $199. And, since they’re basically a glorified web browser, they are extremely fast. I’ve seen them boot to the log in screen in 2 – 3 seconds. Battery life is really good as well, around 10 hours per charge.
That’s a large difference for devices in schools. Because schools usually purchase in large amounts, a $250 difference multiplied by 100 could buy many more devices. Or lower the purchase price in case there weren’t enough funds.
I put some blame on IT people, and I’m pointing every finger at myself seeing as I am one. When we hear about iPads (or we purchase iPads), we don’t care if they won’t connect to the domain. Or work with Group Policy. If Android tablets or Chromebooks were rolled out throughout the school, we don’t care that they won’t work with Group Policy. But as soon as the word Windows is thrown out there, we just have to make sure it works on our domain. I have a Surface 2, and it connects just fine to my servers at school so I can get files from there. It doesn’t run older Windows programs, so I can’t get viruses like other Windows machines. It has Office built in, and it is a really fast machine. Do I care that it can’t connect to the domain, and that I can’t push policies out to it? No, because I can’t do the same with iPads or Chromebooks either.
If your school is blessed with a good MDM solution, then some of this is handled for you. But Chromebooks still beat Windows machines (cost wise) here, with Google’s option for a $30/device management console. I believe it just adds on to the Administration Console that you already have if your school is enrolled in GAFE.
The second point (Professional Development) may not be entirely accurate, but from what I have seen and heard, there’s not much talk about Office 365 out there. Businesses may talk about it, but not schools. Every EdCamp I have been to or read about always centers on GAFE. I’ve even heard some people talk about Office 365 not being an option because it costs. But it doesn’t. It’s free. The costs would be the same for Google for the same services (archiving is an example).
I guess what I’m saying is – don’t discount Microsoft. Look at both services equally. Look at where you want your school to be, and what devices and services you want your students to use. The decision you make will change the future. I mean that. Look at what Apple did to mobile. Google is doing the same thing, not just in mobile, but to devices and applications also. We may be on the verge of a major shift away from the current standard (Microsoft) to a whole different standard.
Currently, at my school, we have Chromebooks. And iPads. And Windows 7 machines. A few Windows 8 machines. A few Macs. Hardly any Androids, other than students’ phones. Students are on the verge of being able to pick up any device and get to work. This is a major shift – I’m surprised by how quickly it seems to be happening.