Google Docs vs Word: Which Option Is Best for You?

Understand the difference between these two forms of word processing

Both Google Docs and Microsoft Word are a part of huge companies and have become common word processing solutions for home users, students, businesses, and everyone in between. We've tested both to dig into what makes them different so that you can pick the one that works best for you.

Word is known for its ubiquitous desktop software that’s commonly purchased through a subscription plan, while Docs can be used from any web browser or phone and is 100% free.

Google Docs vs Microsoft Word

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Overall Findings

Google Docs
  • Free for all the features.

  • Easy to use from anywhere.

  • All the basic editing tools most people need.

  • Useful and simple sharing options.

Microsoft Word
  • Robust desktop program.

  • Great for offline work.

  • Free during the trial period.

Personal preference will be the primary driver behind whether you use Word or Docs. Both have all the features most people need in a good word processor. Things like saving and sharing, general usability, and feature differences are what you should focus on when deciding which one to use.

If price is a factor and you don't need many advanced features, Google Docs is where you should be. However, if you’re one to share lots of documents physically, like on flash drives or file servers, using Word will prove to be a bit faster, and you can't go wrong with its extensive feature set.

Cost: Docs Is Free With Zero Limits

Google Docs
  • It's all free.

Microsoft Word
  • Free only during a limited-time trial.

Both Word and Docs are accessible even if you don’t want to set aside some money to try them, but only Google Docs is free permanently. Just fire up the site in your browser, and you’ll have full access to all the editing tools you need. No payment information is required.

To use Word for free, you need to enter your payment information and activate the MS Office free trial. The trial runs for a limited time, during which you get all the features you would if you pay. But it will end, and you won't be able to use it until you pay.

Word is also available online for free, but that version is considerably rather basic than its desktop counterpart. Learn more about other ways to use Word for free.

Features: Power Users Choose Word

Google Docs
  • Lots of basic features.

  • Useful for light writing requirements.

  • Can open DOCX files from Word.

Microsoft Word
  • Extensive menus full of options.

  • Ideal for research and writing.

  • Accepts several document file formats.

Although it’s possible for a browser-based tool like Docs to offer all the features you need, sometimes a desktop program is what you need. In this case, Microsoft Word is the only way to get the complete set of features if you’re a heavy word processor user.

It’s not that Google Docs is terrible; it just isn’t as full-featured. When you use Word, you feel like you’ve got everything you need at your fingertips. Tables, Mail Merge, bibliography, table of contents, writing styles, watermarks, labels, and charts are just a few examples of the areas where Word shines.

Docs is great for many people, and for most of us, it has its benefits if all you need it for is light use or you don’t need lots of advanced options. But if you need a word processor with all the bells and whistles—everything you’ll need—you can’t go wrong with Microsoft Word. The fact that something as tremendously valuable as Word's envelope maker isn't part of Docs is a simple example of how Docs not as feature-filled.

There are also minor differences that could matter to some. Here are just a couple:

  • In Word, adding a column or row to a table is accessible through a pop-up button when you hover the mouse over that area, making it easy to expand a table. The Docs app requires you to right-click and read the menu to find the insert option you need; there's no shortcut key for it.
  • Google Docs lets you make standard charts and graphs like bar and pie, but you won't get the flexibility Word provides. Over a dozen are supported, including radar, treemap, waterfall, and box & whisker charts.

It's a toss-up when it comes to file format support because Google Docs and Microsoft Word are compatible with each other: You can use Word's popular DOCX format in Google Docs. You can also download a Google doc and open it in MS Word just a few seconds later without converting it into a compatible format.

Mobility: Docs Works Everywhere

Google Docs
  • Website access from anywhere.

  • Mobile app for Android and iOS.

  • Consistency no matter where it's used.

Microsoft Word
  • Runs on Windows and Mac.

  • Mobile app for Android and iOS.

Google Docs runs entirely online, so it’s accessible wherever you may be and looks the same regardless of how you use it. Upload or create a document from your school laptop, and it’s instantly available from your phone and your home computer. It’s straightforward to use from anywhere you have internet.

Word runs from your desktop. It takes time to install, and one subscription limits the number of devices you can use it on. Sure, Word online works from anywhere, just like Docs, but if we’re talking about mobility in the full version, Docs is the clear winner.

Sharing: Google Docs Just Works Better

Google Docs
  • Ultra-fast collaboration.

  • Built-in email form.

Microsoft Word
  • Delayed updates when working with shared files.

  • Requires a desktop email client.

Another way Docs overtakes Word is when sharing files. It's effortless to share and collaborate on Google documents (although it's pretty similar in Word). But since Docs is exclusively online, changes made from one device are essentially instantly reflected on the other ones that have the file open. We haven't had this experience when collaborating on Word docs.

If you'd rather email the document you're working on, Docs performs better there, too. A simple Email option in the menu shows a pop-up where you can choose any of your Gmail contacts and several format options including DOCX, rich text, HTML, and PDF.

How does Word handle this? Not as well. You have to use the desktop email client installed on your computer, and you don't get as many format options. Granted, if you prefer your desktop email client to a web-based one like Gmail.com, then you might choose this setup.

Offline Usage: Word Was Designed For It

Google Docs
  • Relies on an active internet connection.

  • Supports offline access but it's off by default.

Microsoft Word
  • Runs entirely offline.

  • Easy to save documents to attached hard drives.

If you travel a lot or like to work on projects on the go, your laptop will inevitably, at some point, have trouble connecting to a network. The best way to deal with this is to use an offline word processor so that you can work non-stop without running into hiccups. Microsoft Word wins this battle hands-down.

You can use Google Docs offline, but it requires you to be proactive by installing a Chrome extension and then enabling the offline option—if you don't do it before an internet connection problem, it'll be too late. Since Word is on your computer, the internet is never necessary until/unless you're ready to share your files.

Word is also much more convenient if you like to store documents offline or on removable hard drives. It's simple to create a document on a flash drive and edit it in Word directly from there. To use that same document on Google Docs would require you to upload it there, make your changes, and then download it back to the drive.

Final Verdict: Both Are Useful for Different People

It's impossible to make a blanket recommendation for using Word or Docs because we're all different, with unique requirements and experience using word processors. Both of these platforms are useful.

Docs is perfect if you don't want to pay for anything, but you still need a functioning method for viewing and editing documents. Some schools even suggest it over requiring students to pay for a desktop solution like Word. Yet, it still works with MS Word files, has all the features most people need, couldn't be easier to understand, and works great for sharing and backing up your documents.

However, Word is more generous with features and has been the business standard for a long time. You won't find yourself wanting more if you have the most up-to-date version of Word installed, but you will have to pay for those benefits.

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