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Microsoft Office Online (Office Web Apps)

Microsoft's Browser-Based, Free Programs for iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac


Microsoft Office Online (formerly the Microsoft Office Web Apps) programs are free versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote for iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac OS X.

Choosing Your Best Version of Microsoft Office.

A Quick Word on 'Apps'

You are likely to hear about Microsoft Office apps in two different ways:

1. As a new type of add-in, that enhances the full-function versions of Microsoft Office. For more on this kind of app please check out Add-ins and Apps in Microsoft Office.

2. As a trimmed-down, free, stand-alone productivity program that has been known as an Office Web App, which you can find out more about in this article.

Microsoft Office Online

Think of Microsoft’s Office Online as a set of mini-programs that are portable because they function online or offline.

The idea is, you can do fundamental tasks on the go and then sync up with the full-function program later for projects needing rigorous editing.

Office Online programs are more simplified, streamlined versions of the full-function programs in Microsoft Office.

Available Office Online Programs and How to Try Them Out

Experience the Office Online a couple different ways:

1. As part of the Office 2013 Preview, you can create a sign-in and try out the new Microsoft Office On Demand, which takes you to a main Documents screen. Office On Demand is like taking the whole idea of Office Web Apps to one more level, because you can access more functions than the web apps.

2. Currently, Microsoft’s entire suite is not available in Web App form, but the most popular programs are. These links are for templates showing each program—view them now for free, and edit them for free by signing in with your Microsoft Account ID, which allows you to access SkyDrive. You may already have this if you have used a Windows Live ID or other Microsoft product ID in the past.

3. Access Office Online through your Outlook.com webmail interface.

Note that Outlook.com, is Microsoft’s new browser-based email service (replacing hotmail and msn mail). 

The Office Online User Experience

Office Online programs are high-fidelity, meaning documents you create look the same as documents created in the full-function Office programs. Users can do more than just read documents, but the authoring experience is by nature limited.

Visually, the interface in Office Online programs approximates that of the full-function Office programs, including familiar ribbon, menu, and tool screen elements.

That said, other aspects are more streamlined. For example, users do not have to open each program separately. Many of my projects utilize a spreadsheet and presentation, for example. Instead, one just goes to the Documents screen to create any type of document while simultaneously assigning it a name to save to. It sounds simple, but for anyone creating documents all day, this is fantastic.

Collaboration in Office Web Apps

Multi-user editing allows collaboration in real-time. If some collaborators are offline, their edits will be merged in as well as soon as they re-connect.

Office Online is intended to truly facilitate sharing, because all you need is an internet connection. If you save your work to the online Microsoft OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) account, you can give someone who does not own Office permission to view that folder online.

Cost of Office Online and Office 365 Subscriptions

Microsoft’s Office Online programs are currently free.

What are not free are the upgraded cloud options most business users will want. This is where Understanding Office Suite Subscriptions (Office 365) comes in.

Office Versions Compatible with Microsoft Office Online

Users can open, read, and edit files authored in Office 2007, Office 2010, Office 2013 Preview, Office 2008 for Mac, and Office 2011 for Mac.

Browsers Supporting Microsoft Office Online

Microsoft Office Online can run on each of the major internet browsers: Explorer, Chrome, Safari, and Firefox.

Platforms Supporting Microsoft Office Online

Office Online programs are compatible, with varying touch capabilities and functionality, on many platforms, as follows:

While most Office Online users are drawn to the portability on a mobile device such as a phone or tablet, these apps can be used on a Windows or Mac laptop or desktop as well.

Alternatives to Office Online

Best Office Suite Software and Apps for iOS/iPad

Best Office Suite Software and Apps for Android

Best Office Suite Software and Apps for Windows

Best Office Suite Software and Apps for Mac

Questions? Please let me know, and best of luck as you try out this productivity option.

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