When I was a college student, I frequently used both the Microsoft Office Suite (particularly Word and Excel), and the Google Drive Documents and Sheets. So I can tell you from experience that each has its own advantages and drawbacks. While the cloud word processing and sheet capabilities provided by Google Drive are not as robust as Microsoft’s Office products, they provide a certain level of accessibility and convenience that Office cannot. Much of the choice to be made between the two platforms is really a situational decision based on the needs of the project and whether or not it is collaborative.
The biggest difference between Word and Google Docs is the ability to have multiple parties remotely accessing, viewing, and editing the same document in real time. Before Google Docs, I have had weeks-long email conversations with tutors, professors, team members regarding revisions to Word documents. It was an immense hassle, and the confusion of different versions of the document only compounded the inconvenience. Toss in the occasional mismatch between versions of Word and sharing a .docx file that someone else couldn’t open and you were ready to rip your hair out. Often enough, all of this was simply to make a minor change in a couple lines of text. Google Docs makes it extremely easy to make edits as a group in real time, and usually without requiring too much of it. The time saved in compiling different documents to comprise a group report is practically eliminated. Instead, that time can be used for polishing and refining the finished product.
With that said, if you need to make a document look visually appealing, you want to work in Word. The formatting capabilities of Google Docs just won’t cut it. So before you submit that group project, download it into Word and fix all your headers and alignment, and even find a font you like.
When it comes to Google Sheets versus Excel, I have found that Google Sheets is most useful for sharing data sets rather than doing group work. Occasionally, there is a lab and different team members do different calculations on Google Sheets so we all have the data and we have it faster. However, the real time advantage of Sheets vs. Excel is just not as valuable as it is in Docs vs. Word. It is still a much easier method of sharing documents as opposed to email, but at the end of the day, that’s pretty much the only advantage Sheets has. Much like Docs, Sheets is not quite as robust as Excel, so if you need to work through a spreadsheet in detail, use Excel, please.
As I mentioned before, the particular need of the situation will likely dictate which platform you rely on more. If you are working a lot with others, Google Drive is your best friend. Or if you just want to avoid paying for Microsoft Office, Google Drive is a good option. However, Drive is not an alternative to the powerful Office Suite in my opinion, but a supplemental tool that can help increase productivity.