IT managers in schools, colleges and universities have to make a lot of decisions especially when it comes to future proofing their IT.
On-premises servers or cloud-hosted? Should you provide devices or let students bring their own? And of course, which platform should you use? Most of the time, this means choosing between Microsoft and Google.
Every school is different and has different needs. What works for one won’t necessarily work for another. On top of this, the two solutions are pretty similar in most respects. This can make choosing between them quite tough.
Thankfully, there are some subtle differences between the two which might help you to make a decision. In this piece, we’ll explore some of these differences. But before we do that, let’s take a moment to review why these two solutions are so popular and what they can help teachers, students and IT teams to do.
Both Google Classroom and Microsoft give teachers all kinds of options for the delivery of online learning. They can distribute learning materials online, work on them in real-time and create interactive content. If some students in the class need more support, teachers can set them up with voice-to-text applications that reduce the amount of writing they have to do. They also make it easier for students and teachers to stay in touch and provide schools with another way to manage the student relationship. Students can easily catch up on classes that they’ve missed and join classes remotely if they need to.
Finally, they give IT managers the option of issuing devices to students while maintaining control over how they’re used, as well as letting students log on to school networks without compromising network security.
With those similarities out of the way, let’s look at what these two solutions don’t have in common.
Google Suite may be popular with startups and tech companies, but the majority of businesses still run Microsoft. One of the key aspects of bringing IT into the classroom isn’t just to enhance the learning experience, it’s to give students the chance to get to grips with the technology that they will use in their working lives.
In this respect, for the time being at least, Microsoft has a big advantage over Google, although this may change in the future.
On a related note, because they are more widely-used, teachers and students tend to be more familiar with Microsoft’s applications than they do with the Google Suite. Even though the core features of applications like Excel and Google Sheets are similar, familiarity has been proven to affect adoption rates, so it’s worth taking that into account.
I believe that the products that we put in front of students must be industry standard and similar to what they’re going to use in the future… If you look at it from that angle, I think around 80% of universities use Office 365 and most businesses use Microsoft. The skills that students pick up when using this software are part of their education, in the same way that learning to use Adobe and not some other platform would be best for graphic design.
Neil McQueen - Head of Technical Services, Fareham College
A lot of people are familiar with Microsoft’s products, but Google’s products are generally considered to be easier to use. The designs are clean, thoughtfully laid out and easy to get the hang of. By comparison, Microsoft’s interfaces can feel a bit confusing.
Google products are also considered to be a bit better at enabling real-time collaboration. While both products are technically capable of supporting teachers and students interacting and editing in real-time, Google does it in a way which feels more fluid and effortless. Which, ultimately, is what real-time collaboration should be all about.
User experience has been good. People are used to Google, so are already comfortable with it before they have even tried the Chromebooks. We were able to deploy almost 400 Chrome devices in a month with a team of four. This included setting up trolleys and mounting Chromeboxes to monitors. I would say that's pretty quick for a team that have other schools to support too!
Harry Elliott, IT Support Manager, Queen Elizabeth's School - see the full interview with Harry here
The Office 365 admin center allow you to manage people, software, and cloud services from one location.
Microsoft has been a staple of enterprise IT for a long time and, as a result, the platform has deeper functionality and controls for IT teams than Google Classroom. This makes it possible for IT teams to manage devices, infrastructure, access and permissions at an extremely granular level.
IT teams that are willing to invest the time to really get to grips with the platform will be able to dive into workflow automation and complex information architectures (or indexing) to improve productivity.
Tools such as Active Directory and InTune are also very useful when it comes to the more everyday tasks such as device management and licensing. And administrators will benefit from the wide range of documentation and support materials that can show them how to get the most out of the platform.
Our technologies are easy enough for the average person to use. A single IT champion in a primary school will be able to set up Teams for their school or use InTune to manage devices. But at the same time we have in-depth reporting through Power BI and really good analytics through Teams. We also have great supervision features, which for instance can scan chats and systems for certain words to help find bullying. So there’s a lot of depth.
Jennifer King, Schools Engagement Lead, Microsoft
Low-cost, and with automatic updates and multi-layer security, Chromebooks are ideal for education.
Chromebooks were designed as a lightweight, low-cost alternative to traditional Mac and PC laptops. The key difference between Chromebooks and laptops is that the Chromebook relies heavily on the cloud, which means they have less onboard software and hardware.
This makes them fast to boot and gives them a great battery life. However, it also limits what they’re capable of when they’re not connected to the internet.
That said, Chromebooks are quite a bit cheaper than laptops. If your school requires a large number of devices, choosing Chromebooks instead of laptops could save you quite a bit of money.
Technically, you could still run the Microsoft solution on a Chromebook, but it would make more sense to run Google Classroom to ensure interoperability between your devices and the underlying platform.
Overall, Chromebooks are great. To really get the most of them, I would recommend getting into the Google ecosystem, but other than that, they are simple, require little to no effort to set up and can be managed easily. That is sort of the dream for any educational establishment. I would recommend them to anyone in a heartbeat!
Harry Elliott, IT Support Manager, Queen Elizabeth's School
While understanding the capabilities of these two platforms will help you make a decision, it really comes down to your priorities, what you’ve done in the past and what you’re trying to achieve.
Your existing infrastructure, what your users are used to, your appetite for depth and customisation are all things that need to be taken into consideration before you can make the right decision.
If you’re struggling to choose between Microsoft and Google, feel free to get in touch. We can help you make sense of what the platforms have to offer and which is best suited to your needs.