We’ve written more than our fair share about Google Docs, the most recent piece being Tim’s about 5 New Google Docs Features You Might Have Missed. Google’s goal in creating Google Docs, it would seem, was to bring down Microsoft Office – which is perhaps the most universally installed piece of software on the planet.
Google Docs hasn’t yet managed to lessen Office’s behemoth market share, but apparently Microsoft’s worried enough to experiment with the cloud.
Four years after Google launched its online office suite, Microsoft is finally taking the idea of web-based apps seriously enough to put out a similar service. The end result is less a cloud “app” and more of a cloud complement to the desktop version of Microsoft Office.
Getting Started With Microsoft Docs
Microsoft Docs is technically in beta, but I received my login within minutes of signing up. Just head over to Docs.com and click the “Sign Up” button.
You can create a new document by clicking the “Add a Doc” button at the top of the screen. Do so and you’ll see a familiar interface:
The ribbon has made it to the web. If you like Microsoft Office’s interface you’ll find this a welcome relief from Google Docs’ menu-driven interface.
You’ll quickly find out that Microsoft Docs is not meant to be a completely online alternative to Microsoft Office. Only the most basic word processing features, for example, have made it over to Word as you can see in the picture above. The Excel interface is similarly limited:
Note that there’s only two ribbons: “Home” and “Insert.” To many this may be a relief from Office’s often-complex interface.
You can upload any existing Office document to Docs, assuming it’s a Microsoft document – no Open Office integration here, unsurprisingly. Some features, including macros, will not work online.
Still, Microsoft Docs is cool in some ways. Your documents look the same online as they do on your desktop. That compatibility is valuable. Docs is also integrated very well with Facebook.
You’ll notice right away that signing into Microsoft Docs requires not an MSN username and password but a Facebook one. You can easily share documents with your Facebook friends, and every document has a Facebook-driven “wall” which you can use to leave comments about a given document.
Heck, there’s even a “Friend’s Docs” wall where you can see documents all your friends on Facebook have shared. If Facebook is the center of your work life you may find this integration useful.
It’s a pretty cool platform for sharing funny PowerPoint presentations, too. There was one from The Oatmeal featured on the front page:
Compared To Google Docs
A few things Google’s document offering has that Microsoft lacks are obvious. First of all, Google allows users to download their documents in both the Open Office and Microsoft Office formats. Microsoft Docs offers instead an “Open In Office” button that opens the document in the proper Microsoft-approved piece of software. Try this out if you don’t have Office installed, or on a Linux system, and you’ll see a message like this:
You’ll find the same error message pops up if you have a version of Word older than 2007, which is a little disappointing. There’s no obvious way to download documents from Docs without Microsoft Office, but I did find a workaround. Click the “Finish Editing” button and re-open your document. You’ll now see a “Download” button that will give you the document in the proprietary Office 2007 format. This is kind of hidden but is at least possible.
There’s also, as of this writing, no equivalent service to Google Forms in the spreadsheet app (although this may be in the works).
It should also be noted that I experienced numerous bugs while using the service. If you’re looking to use an online service as your primary office suite I’d suggest waiting until Microsoft Docs comes out of beta.
Still, there are some advantages to this service over Google’s. Since the programmers have access to Microsoft’s proprietary formats, every document uploaded to Microsoft Docs looks identical to the same document on the desktop (though the same could be said with Google Docs and Open Office documents, which Microsoft Docs can’t even open).
IE & Silverlight
I experienced nothing but crashes attempting to use this service in Firefox and Chrome. Your mileage may vary, but for the best possible experience using Docs I suggest using Internet Explorer with Silverlight installed.
As such, this service sucks on Linux. Without Silverlight you’ll have very limited functionality; install Moonlight and the service will crash constantly (or at least it did on my Jolicloud setup).
Any wholesale comparison to Google Docs is unfair, as Microsoft Docs is still in its infancy. Considering how tied this webapp is to its parent software, Microsoft Office, I’m not certain this is even supposed to compete with Google Docs. And the fact is that Microsoft Docs is a pretty cool service if you’re already reliant on Microsoft Office and plugged into Facebook.
If you’re someone who wants to stop buying Microsoft Office altogether and store all your data in the cloud, however, the limited feature set and relative instability outside of Internet Explorer may be a setback. This webapp seems like more of a supplement to Microsoft Office than an alternative to it.
What do you guys think? Am I being to hard on Microsoft Docs, or not hard enough? Are you excited to see more and more programs make their way over to the cloud? Commenting is your chance to express yourself, so please share!