Why do I use Google Drive vs. Microsoft OneDrive?

Published by eric on

I had a conversation with an instructor the other day on the topic of Google Drive vs. Microsoft OneDrive. Her response to my answer was that it was useful and that I should share it with others to see.  Before I get into that, here’s a bit of background in how I use Google Docs/Drive…

One of my primary instructional-design philosophies is that I like to build content in a fashion that makes it convenient for students to consume in a variety of ways, because not every student is the same.  For that reason–and a couple of others–Google Drive fits the bill:

  • it is (mostly) browser agnostic, in that it will look the same in every browser
  • it is (mostly) device agnostic, in that it will look the same on most devices
  • documents appear directly within my course, so students do not need to open up a different app that takes them out of my course
  • I can update them and changes are immediately reflected
  • I can roll back changes, if I need to
  • if I am collaborating with another instructor, it is easy to keep track of who changed what
  • students can download a Google Doc in a variety of formats (DOCX, ODF, PDF, RTF, TXT, EPUB, HTML, etc.)
  • in the case of slides, students can print them out in a variety of different layouts (e.g. slides in one column, notes in another, etc.) directly from the browser
  • I can easily share these documents outside of the LMS, in case–I do not know–the LMS should barf at the start of the semester and I need to find an alternative way to distribute documents to my students

So enough background, let me get into why I prefer Google Drive over Microsoft OneDrive.

I have only ever used Google Docs in my course, simply because it was around before OneDrive/Office 365 (which I will just refer to as OneDrive).  Because of this, I used OneDrive for all work-related activities, just so I could keep up on both, in case one solution worked better for instructors than another.  In both cases, I was using these before USD had integration with them, so I was using my personal account.

OneDrive had a real advantage in that it was 100% compatible with Office documents—not surprisingly.  So, when I uploaded a PowerPoint slide deck to OneDrive, and gave access to users, it looked exactly like it did in native PowerPoint.  I believe even transitions and annotations eventually worked, too.  This was not the case for Google Slides, and often required reformatting.

I stopped using OneDrive for a few reasons, in order of most importance to least:

  • Microsoft took away the option to share files anonymously.
    You can still share them publicly, but Microsoft requires users to have a OneDrive account, or an agreement like USD’s where they SSO through CAS.  To me, that added an unnecessary step, where, at best, it required students to log in again to access the files, and at worst, made it more difficult to share files in situations where you have multi-institutional students in your course.  If a student’s home institution does not have an agreement with Microsoft, the student would have to create an account just to access the course’s files.This was my primary motivation for moving away from OneDrive.

    [UPDATE:  It looks like Microsoft added this functionality back in shortly after changing it, but such a change should not have taken place in the first place.]


  • OneDrive has limited support for saving files.
    With OneDrive, students can only save offline copies in two formats:  Microsoft’s or a PDF (though they may have added more, since I last used it).  With Google Docs, students can save a copy of the document to their own Google Drive, or can download a copy in MS Office, Open Office, PDF, RTF, TXT, or EPUB formats.  This means I do not need to worry about students having access to Word or PowerPoint, as they are going to be able to get my content in a format that works on their device.This was my primary motivation for using Google Drive in my course in the first place.
  • When other services were giving users more space, Microsoft took space away.
    Last year, Microsoft announced that for its free accounts, it was reducing the amount of available storage to 5GB.  There was no grandfathering in, or anything:  Microsoft basically decimated the amount of storage available for everyone.  Now, I did not have nearly that much in OneDrive, but to require me to move from 50GB of space to 5GB just left a bad taste in my mouth, especially since Google had just given me 100GB free for two years.
  • Recently Microsoft broke compatibility for OneDrive on many computers.
    At the risk of getting overly technical, Microsoft recently broke OneDrive functionality for all users with hard drives formatted with anything other than Microsoft’s proprietary NTFS.  There is no easy fix for this, as it would force users to reformat their hard drives, if they wanted to sync OneDrive files with their computers.  Their explanation for this was literally:  it “discovered a warning message that should have existed was missing when a user attempted to store their OneDrive folder on a non-NTFS filesystem—which was immediately remedied.”  In other words, this should have always been the case, we are just requiring it now, with no warning to the user.

Philosophically, what I see going on is an attempt by Microsoft to make OneDrive useful, but not too useful, as their cash cow is Office.  For this reason, they put in these artificial restrictions on the suite, so it can only do so much before you have to pay to get the full features.  Obviously, financially, this makes a lot of sense, but it does have a negative impact on users when Microsoft decides to change the conditions.

I have never experienced such a change in Google Drive:

  • I can still share files anonymously—students do not need to log in to see the files—but I can restrict them, if need be.
  • Google is extremely flexible when it comes to offline use, given users many export options.
  • I have only ever received more space from Google.
  • Google Drive can sync to any computer, regardless of drive format.
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