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Microsoft is not known for its quick adoption of new trends, but when it does get on board, it often tries to make up lost time with gobs of money and hoards of experienced software engineers.

This strategy seems to be working with Office Online, a cloud-connected version of the world’s most popular productivity software that is free to use (with limitations) and offers a buffet of useful features. You’ll even find Office Online useful, if you already have a copy of Office installed on your computer.

Office Online Is Free

There’s always been one big, fat problem with Office; the price. It’s expensive, and many users simply can’t afford it, even if they prefer it over a free solution like Google Docs or LibreOffice 9 of the Best Free & Low-Cost Alternatives to Microsoft Office 9 of the Best Free & Low-Cost Alternatives to Microsoft Office Microsoft Office has dominated the market of text documents, spreadsheets and slide shows for years, and for good reason – it’s one of the very best. However, there’s one drawback and that is the price.... Read More .

Office Online, however, is one of the few ways you can use Office entirely free of charge 6 Ways You Can Use Microsoft Office Without Paying For It 6 Ways You Can Use Microsoft Office Without Paying For It Read More , forever, and without any specific limitations. Office’s web apps are the same whether you pay or not, and free users even receive 15 gigabytes of cloud storage, which is far more than you’re likely to need, if you’re only using said storage for Word documents or PowerPoint presentations.

Office Online

What’s the catch? Well, while Office Online is great, it isn’t a full-fledged version Office. Just like web document editors from Google, Zoho and others, there are limitations on what you can accomplish. Word’s advanced formatting options are not present, Excel’s graph functionality is limited, and PowerPoint can’t be used to insert video.

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What you can do, however, is create, edit and open Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. You may not want to use Office Online to craft a presentation for a Fortune 500 company, but it’ll work fine for banging out a resume or budgeting your finances.

Access Your Documents From Anywhere

One of the Office Online’s most obvious advantages is its cloud storage connectivity. Documents, spreadsheets and presentations edited used the online interface are automatically saved to OneDrive 5 Smart Ways to Customize & Improve OneDrive in Windows 8.1 5 Smart Ways to Customize & Improve OneDrive in Windows 8.1 OneDrive can be a blessing or a curse. It's deeply integrated into Windows 8.1. You'll either want to get the most of it or disable it completely. We can help with both. Read More and can be opened from any computer. You can also save files to your local PC, but that is not the default behavior.

onedrive

In short, it works like any other cloud productivity service. This is not an advantage relative to those, but it is an advantage to a huge number of Office owners who might be reading this article. Office did not bundle OneDrive connectivity until the introduction of Office 2013, so there’s a ton of users with older versions of Office (for PC and for Mac) who lack this feature.

Sure, you could grab cloud connectivity by paying for an upgrade, but that’s not going to look attractive if you’re already satisfied with what your version of Office can handle. Office Online is free and instantly available, making it a perfect upgrade path for the budget-minded user.

Share & Collaborate on Documents in Real-Time

Office has included collaboration tools for many years, but it has been consistently behind the curve in the online collaboration, and important tool that many organizations love to use. This remains a problem in the desktop apps, but Office Online is a bit more welcoming.

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Documents created in Office Online are easy to share with others because they’re automatically stored in OneDrive, which lets you share with other people with a Microsoft account or by generating and sending a link. Other users given editing permission can collaborate with you in real-time Team Working: 10 Tips For Effective Real-Time Online Collaboration Team Working: 10 Tips For Effective Real-Time Online Collaboration Read More , and each user can see the others as they work.

For better or worse, this remains a trick you can only pull off with the online version. Even Office 365 subscribers can’t do the same from the desktop application, though they do have access to a broader range of offline collaboration options. You can add, edit and view comments in Office Online, but you can’t use Track Changes or add advanced markup to comments.

Easy Cross-Platform Compatibility

While the cloud connectivity of Office Online can be partially replicated by paying Office 365 owners, the desktop applications remain restricted to Windows and Mac.

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Office Online, however, is available on anything that can run a web browser. There’s also free apps for Android and iOS phones, though for some reason iPad owners have to subscribe to Office 365 Students Can Get Microsoft Office 365 for Free Students Can Get Microsoft Office 365 for Free Starting on December 1st, Universities that license Office Education for their faculty and staff can offer students Office 365 ProPlus for free. Read More for this advantage. While not called Office Online, the app versions of Office 365 are basically that; they share the same restrictions and advantages.

This makes Office Online great for anyone who owns an Android tablet with a keyboard, a Linux PC or a Chromebook. Yes, you could use Google Documents and other services instead, but Office Online provides highly accurate Office file format support, fifteen gigabytes of free storage and easy connectivity with Office 365, if you use it or plan to in the future.

Simplify Your Workflow

Google’s Chromebooks have proven that a simplified operating environment Looking For A New Laptop? Get A Chromebook Instead! Looking For A New Laptop? Get A Chromebook Instead! Read More has value to users. Limited options mean less distraction, and saving items to the cloud eliminates the need to navigate folders or organize libraries. Fewer options result in a more efficient workflow, if the extras aren’t necessary.

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Office Online provides this same advantage in a familiar interface. No, it is not as powerful as the full version, but it does enough to handle the document editing needs of many home and even professional users. And you already know where to find the menus and buttons you need.

The online version is also surprisingly fast; in fact, it sometimes feels quicker than the desktop application on old systems with limited RAM 5 Ways to Clear Memory & Increase RAM on Your Windows Computer 5 Ways to Clear Memory & Increase RAM on Your Windows Computer RAM, the final frontier. You always seem to run out of it. We'll show you how you can free up internal memory and extend your RAM, both virtually and physically. Read More and a slow mechanical hard drive. And, since files are stored in the cloud, they don’t eat into your valuable hard drive space or become lost in a tangle of folders you really should have organized by now.

I speak of Office Online’s efficiency from experience. I own Office 2010 for my PC and Office 2011 on my Mac, and use both regularly. Yet, I’ve found that the vast majority of my work is just as easily accomplished in Office Online – and, when I use it, I benefit from its cloud storage, which makes syncing between my PC and Mac dead-simple. Give the online tools a chance and you may find they completely change your workflow.

Should You Use Office Online?

Microsoft Office Online is not superior (or inferior) to Google Documents Word Processing In Google Docs? 5 Important Tips To Keep In Mind Word Processing In Google Docs? 5 Important Tips To Keep In Mind For the majority of my life, Microsoft Word was the word processing tool to use if you were going to do any serious work. Sure, there were alternatives like Corel WordPerfect and later on OpenOffice,... Read More and doesn’t stand out as the best online platform, but it’s the obvious choice for users already hooked into Microsoft’s ecosystem. The interface is exactly like the desktop apps, missing features aside, so there’s no need to learn new tricks. Office Online is free, quick and instantly familiar, and for those reasons it’s worth a second look from any skeptical eyes that passed on its earlier incarnations.

Have you tried Office Online? Let us know what you though of it! And if you’ve tried other solutions, let us know about your experience with those, too!

  1. DevQuest
    October 2, 2016 at 3:22 pm

    I want to integrate Powerpoint Online [Free] into, and to power a cloud app where I would allow others to upload and easily share PPT presentations. Since it's 'free' do I need a license from MS to offer this service to others?

  2. Brian Astbury
    November 26, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    I'm trying to teach my students to publish e-books, especially on Kindle, and I need a free word processor (they're mostly skint) that will Save As a web-filtered file. I can't see this option on Word Online - only Save As a Web Archive. Am I missing something, and, if not, does anybody know of a free WP that does this? Otherwise, I am just going to have to go the hard route of teaching them to do it via HTML. Every time I mention this to them their faces look as though they're watching Friday 13th Part 35.

  3. john bailes
    May 17, 2015 at 9:35 pm

    Everytime I try to find a place to download Office Online I get a spanish page. Google translates it. THere is no place to download. And then it leads to a page that charges for use. How about putting up a URL that makes it direct and easy to download?

    • Andreas Octavio Navarro Nes
      October 29, 2015 at 1:16 am

      You can't download Office 'Online', hence the name. You just have to visit http://www.office.com and click on one of the colored square icons (Word, Powerpoint, Excel, etc.); right below where it says 'Get started with the online apps now'.

  4. rocinante3d
    August 19, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    What happens when you don't have an ubiquitous Internet connection? Then you have very little choice but to use an Office type program. Libre Office and Open office are just fine but people are conditioned to use Microsoft. This is all a good thing because it keeps stock prices up.

    You may call me a horrible person but that's the only way Warren Buffett looks at it.

  5. Rengab
    August 19, 2014 at 2:51 am

    I would rather have the privacy of offline and free Softmaker Free Office

  6. Gary Mugford
    August 19, 2014 at 12:53 am

    Let me make it clear that I use an OpenOffice fork called LibreOffice and am perfectly happy with it. But I did discover a flaw in depending on it when first testing things five years ago, although the bug is actually an EXCEL bug. If you run a lookup with Error, StyleA, StyleB and StyleC in cells a1..d1 and then -1, 10, 20 and 30 directly below them in the second row, the following lookup routine will read differently in Excel that it does the 'offices.' =IF(A15="","",LOOKUP(A15,$A$1:$D$1,$A$2:DI$2)) typing from memory.

    LibreOffice GETS the lookup correctly, showing -1 if you type in Style-B (note the dash), purple or anything non-StyleX. Excel will take a best guess from the actual list and that guess is StyleA's value.

    Unfortunately, the 'office developers are not inclined to repeat Excel's programming and insists on making the lookup behave correctly. Which is a problem, because a LOT of sheets and templates that are shared around, assume Excel will be in use and program around the lookups to account for the bug. We are all warned about 'office and the web implementations working if you assume limitations in feature sets. Getting different results from Excel and the clones in such a commonly-used feature? I banned the 'offices at work and ponied up for the Microsoft Office licenses.

    Once again, I am a LibreOffice user and a happy one. But I am aware that SHARING sheets between Excel and Calc is not an automatic non-issue. I would presume the same for ... cut-cost alternatives.

  7. BruceLR
    August 19, 2014 at 12:27 am

    I think Excel Online is really pretty lame. LibreOffice and OpenOffice are far better.

  8. D-Mo
    August 18, 2014 at 10:56 pm

    Personally I have Libre Office on my desktop and it meets my needs. I have a son in college that uses Google Docs, but I'm going to recommend he switch over to Office Online. For the simple reason that most major companies will be MS Office based and already using Office would be a positive resume point to hiring companies.

  9. likefunbutnot
    August 17, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    Many, many third party line-of-business applications operate with the assumption that Microsoft Office will be installed locally, usually for integration with Word, Excel or Outlook. Most of my customers have something-or-other which works that way. In some cases, the requirement even breaks down to a specific version of the Office software. I bought 20 Office 2007 licenses last week for that very reason.

    We don't yet live in a world where everything is web-enabled and device independent.

  10. Fik of borg
    August 17, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    I considered both this and the paid version for the company I work for, but this has a dealbreaker in my country (Venezuela): limited connectivity.
    Although one can live with no more than cellular web and email for a couple of days during one of the frequent connectivity blackouts, Internet access simply is not reliable enough to use mission critical cloud based apps.
    Back to LibreOffice and OpenOffice we go.

  11. Vijay G. Kamat
    August 17, 2014 at 11:24 am

    First OpenOffice now LibreOffice forever

  12. Sadegh
    August 17, 2014 at 9:22 am

    You can use different alternatives, but the good thing with MS Office is that it has all of the capabilities together.

    1. I have a local Office 13 and use OneDrive; two names that do lots of things. I usually edit offline and sync to catch up with the rest of the task at home/work.

    2. At the same time, OneDrive acts for me as a dropbox. too. At work, I drop lots of articles (usu. after saving them as PDF) and infographics I encounter on the web to read during my leasure time at home.

    3. I share the links to my project docs in the Public folder with my students/customers, hence, much less hassle, commute, paper work and flash drive risk!

    4. One thing that bothers me a little is that the cloud icon in the notification area takes longer than expected to check changes and update. Pessimistically speaking, yeah, there might also be some NSA collaboration embedded in Office Collaboration; but why the hell should we care!? Why do we "have to" think that snooping is all about negative things? Why do we torment ourselves trying to demonize some monitoring (if any) that might also have some positive security-related causes, too? Let's think about what psychological problem in me and you causes us to search, locate, and dub "enemies" among our closest neighbors!

    I'm OK with MS Office on the ground and in the cloud. I am a paranoid geek. I use highly customized firewall and AV and care about lots of other vulnerabilities due to my own self-inflicted paranoia of "oh, there's someone watching"; but when I look at my everyday life & work, I see everything in going well and I'm happy. Why should we join the pessimistic propaganda that abounds on the net these days and ruin the sweet individual moments of lifetime which, unlike documents, cannot be undone and re-edited once gone...

    • paranoia
      August 19, 2014 at 1:13 am

      Why do we “have to” think that snooping is all about negative things?
      Until your private life becomes public, it's OK I guess.

  13. ReadandShare
    August 17, 2014 at 4:01 am

    Except for putting up a few innocuous files that specifically need to be shared... I do not use MS or Google's "web office" apps at all.

    All major OS (Android, iOS, Linus, Mac, Win) can run a myriad of free apps that can open/edit/save "office" files. And if you encrypt your files locally and then upload them to the cloud, you have the same "access anywhere" capability -- plus a lot more privacy protection.

  14. Howard B
    August 17, 2014 at 3:05 am

    Why use any version of Office at all? Unless you definitely require some weird formatting options, LibreOffice and OpenOffice are free and perfectly serviceable office suites, and don't require you to have an Internet connection or use cloud storage (and Microsoft is well-known for collaborating with the NSA and other shady agencies when requested).

    • KT
      August 18, 2014 at 9:21 pm

      I couldn't agree more. LibreOffice gets it done for me for free.

    • JB
      August 20, 2014 at 1:19 pm

      Totally agree. Unfortunately I have to deal with some pptx-formatted stuff right now, and Libre Office can't handle this format properly. So I spent last week with trying to install Office 365 without success. I love those Microsoft-style error messages: "Sorry, a problem has occurred during the installation."
      I really hate being dependent on this MS-stuff, it never works as it should :/

  15. infmom
    August 17, 2014 at 12:24 am

    Copies of older versions of Office are available for bargain prices on eBay. Office 2007 is compatible with the current version PLUS you can even find a 3-license package, which Microsoft no longer offers.

    • Matt S
      August 17, 2014 at 1:16 am

      There's some good deals. There's also some crazies that still want $100 for it. That's just bizarre.

  16. James F
    August 16, 2014 at 11:34 pm

    I pay for and use Office365 because it comes with 1tb of cloud storage for $6.99/month vs 1tb from Google at $9.99/month.

    • Max
      August 17, 2014 at 12:04 am

      I wonder how much of that 1TB do you actually use?

    • Obamanot
      August 17, 2014 at 8:12 pm

      I have office 2013 for free

    • lol
      August 21, 2014 at 3:13 am

      Max, 1 TB is not that extremely much. If you only use your computer for word documents or whatever, then it's a lot. If you store a lot of music or videos, it quickly fills up.
      And it's not important if he uses 1 TB if the lower tier option is 500 GB and he almost filled that up.

      What I'm getting at is.. For god's sake, how much of it he uses has nothing to do with this article or the point he's making. And even if he used none of it, it still doesn't matter, what the fuck is your point.

    • ashlann
      February 26, 2015 at 5:29 pm

      i think it is amazing

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