If you need an affordable way to create documents, spreadsheets or other files and then access them from any location, you have a couple of reputable options.

Google offers Google Docs, which is a suite of web-based applications that enables you to produce, share and store several types of office-related files.

Likewise, Microsoft Office Web Apps lets you create, store and provide access to everything from documents to slide shows to worksheets and notebooks. Both are cloud applications presented by highly regarded software creators and both are offered free of charge. This raises the question: Which is the better option?

Comparing the features in an apples-to-apples manner can help you determine which of these online programs will best suit your needs.

Overview of Features and Services:

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While delving into the features and services each application offers, including how well they work – our breakdown will certainly help you decide what resource you should choose. A quick rundown and comparison of them will give you a rough idea about how well they measure up.

Both Google Docs and MS Office Web Apps allow you to upload existing files from your computer to store, edit and share them. You can create new documents, spreadsheets, and presentations in each of these programs as well. MS Office Web Apps offers the option of uploading, sharing and creating OneNote notebooks; Google provides a counterpart with Google Notebook.

If you are a committed Microsoft fan or a dyed-in-the-wool Google lover, these similarities can make your decision rather simple. You can choose the name with which you are most comfortable and basically have all that you need. If you are not confident judging by name alone, though, digging deeper into the characteristics, tools, and limitations of each suite will help you make an informed decision.

Interface and File Types:

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From the primary window of either application, finding what you need is generally straightforward. Google Docs provides buttons labeled Create New and Upload in the left pane, while New and Add Files are options in the Office Web Apps toolbar. Neither of the pages are overwhelming. In fact, the Google Docs interface is extremely minimalistic. You may find the MS Office Web Apps’ richer main page more appealing than Google’s plainer one.

 

As for the user interface of the actual applications within each suite, there are differences there as well. Office Web Apps features the fluent ribbon interface introduced in Office 2007 and carried over into Office 2010, albeit a scaled-down version of the fully-featured ribbons found in desktop-based applications.

Google Docs uses the traditional toolbar interface, with the drop-down menus and handy toolbar buttons that many users of current MS Office programs now miss. You will find similar tools in both options, such as text formatting and the ability to insert tables, hyperlinks, and images.

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Compatibility with External Files:

You can upload Microsoft Office files and other file types, such as images and PDF files, into Google Docs. It will convert the files into its own file format so that you can edit, store and share them there. In addition, if you use the Google Chrome web browser you can upload entire folders into your account. You will need to install a special add-in in order to export a file from Google Docs to a comparable MS Office application on your computer, though.

 

If you use the MS Office suite on your computer, you can save files directly to SkyDrive using Office 2010.[Read: How to Setup and use Skydrive on your Computer]

Even if you do not have access to Office 2010, uploading files to Office Web Apps is a breeze. Use the formal uploader or simply drag and drop the files from your computer into your account. In addition, you can open files from your Web Apps account directly in the corresponding Office program on your desktop. You cannot upload entire folders to the site.

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Templates:

Google Docs offers a handful of templates. To find templates for Google, click the Browse Template Gallery link next to the Search box.

Google Docs Templates Gallery

If you want templates for Office Web Apps, you will need to download them into the desktop version of the program and then upload that file to your Web Apps account.

Templates for MS Office Web Apps

File-Sharing and Storage Space:

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Sharing your files with others is easy in either application. In Google Docs, clicking the Sharing button above the file you are editing or viewing presents options such as Sharing Settings or Email Editors/Viewers. To share the current file in Office Web Apps, go to the File menu and click Share to select your options.

In Google Docs, up to 50 different users can edit a file at the same time and you can share files with up to 200 people. On the MS side, multiple users can only work simultaneously in the Excel Web App.

Google Docs offers 1 GB of storage space for your files, while SkyDrive –which is where MS Office Web Apps are located—provides a whopping 25 GB.

Overall Recommendation:

When trying to determine whether Google Docs or MS Office Web Apps is better, there is no right or wrong answer. Both offer handy features and ease of use. Both support many of the most commonly used file types, and both are available at no cost.

Google Docs offers access to templates, simultaneous editing options, and the traditional toolbar while MS Office Web Apps offers tons of space, easy connection with desktop Office programs and the more modern ribbon interface. The key to choosing the best suite of apps is figuring out what your wants and needs are and then selecting the program that best meets both.