Don’t Pay for Microsoft Word! 4 Reasons to Use Office Online Instead

Ben Stegner Updated 12-09-2019

Microsoft Office is the world’s de facto productivity suite, but did you know that you don’t really need to pay for Microsoft Word and other apps? Thanks to Microsoft Office Online, you can access the most popular Office apps for free.


For most people, these stripped-down versions of Office work just fine. Let’s look at some of the reasons to use Word Online, Excel Online, and the other free offerings.

1. Office Online Is Free

The biggest benefit of Office Online is that you can use it without paying. This is the easiest way to get Microsoft Word for free and legally.

Traditionally, you had to pay upfront for a standalone copy of the latest version of Office (like Office 2013 or Office 2019), which could cost a hundred dollars or more. Nowadays, Microsoft wants you to subscribe to Office 365. This is more affordable at $10 or so per month, but the subscription still adds up over time.

With Office Online, you gain access to online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and also at no cost. Lesser-known apps like Flow, Forms, and Sway are included in the list of Office Online offerings too. There are no online versions for Access and Publisher though.

To try it, sign in to your Microsoft account on, then visit your Office apps page. Here you’ll see everything that’s available and can jump to any app you like.


Office Online Apps

2. Access Documents Anywhere With Cloud Storage

Having your files saved only to one computer can cause problems when you need them on another device. While the option of saving to the cloud is available in modern desktop versions of Office today, it’s the default and easy to use in Office Online.

Everyone gets 5GB of free storage in OneDrive with their Microsoft Account, which is plenty for storing personal documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. When you work in Office Online, all changes save to your OneDrive account as you go. This means you won’t lose hours of progress if something crashes and you haven’t manually saved in a while.

Word Online Save As Prompt


With the OneDrive app on your phone, you can easily pull up your documents anywhere. And if you need to edit them in a pinch, you can simply sign in to Office Online on any computer.

Even better, Office Online is device-agnostic. You can access it on any device with a web browser, including Linux and Mac machines. Free Office Android and iOS apps for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint provide similar functionality on mobile.

3. Easy Sharing and Collaboration

A lot of people commonly share desktop Office documents via email. While this is fine in moderation, it becomes cumbersome to constantly send a document back and forth. In Office Online, you can easily click Share on a file to send a link to anyone. As long as they have a Microsoft account, they can edit it if you give them permission to do so.

Office Online Share Document


Office Online also makes collaborating on documents a cinch. Whether you want to edit a large paper together or both work in a spreadsheet, doing so only requires both parties to have the document open. While a similar function is available in desktop Office with OneDrive, it’s not quite as simple to set up.

4. Office Online Offers a Simplified Workflow

The Online versions of these apps aren’t as full-featured as their desktop counterparts. They don’t include the most powerful tools, such as Word’s advanced formatting and Excel’s detailed graphs or Macros.

This makes Office Online unsuitable for professional use, but they’re still more than capable for personal use.

However, Office Online lacking power user features can actually be a benefit for some people. You might feel overwhelmed by the number of tools on the Ribbon and options to tweak in desktop Office. If that’s you, perhaps you’ll love the slimmed-down approach of Office Online.


If you have an old computer with a slow HDD and limited RAM, Office Online may work faster for you. While the desktop Office apps are fairly bulky, the web app doesn’t put such a strain on your system.

Office Online also provides organizational benefits. Because it keeps all your files in OneDrive, they won’t take up storage space on your machine.

Storing all Office files in OneDrive also means they aren’t mixed in with everything else on your system. Each app shows recently edited and pinned files of their type (spreadsheets, presentations, etc.) so you can open them from there instead of hunting around a bunch of folders.

Office Online Pinned Documents and Templates

Finally, using Office Online lets you save documents in the standard Office file formats, such as DOCX and XLSX. Because so many people use Office, this is important for computability with others. Many Microsoft Office alternatives The 7 Best Free Microsoft Office Alternatives Microsoft Office is the king of office suites, but that doesn't mean it's the right one for you. Here are some other office suites you might like better! Read More don’t work perfectly with these formats, which scores another point for Office Online.

When Microsoft Office Online Isn’t Ideal

We’ve looked at several reasons why Office Online is a great service you should take advantage of, particularly compared to desktop Office. However, it’s of course not perfect. There are some situations where you’re better off with another solution.

One of the biggest limitations of Office Online is its limited app selection. If you require anything beyond the basics, you’ll need the full version of Office. Apps like Access, Visio, and Project don’t have free web versions.

After trying the Office Online apps, you may also find that they lack a feature you need. You can’t use the web versions to run a mail merge or execute macros, for example. Those require traditional Microsoft Office (see some ways to get an Office license for free 6 Ways You Can Get a Microsoft Office License for Free Free Microsoft Office licenses are hard to get, but they do exist. This article covers six ways to get Word and Excel for free. Read More or pick up a cheap Office license 5 Ways to Get Cheap Microsoft Office and Word Licenses Looking for the cheapest way to get Microsoft Office? Here's how you can get the productivity suite for a fraction of the price. Read More if you need to upgrade).

Another serious limitation of Office Online is right in the name—you need an internet connection to use it. For those who often travel without internet access, Office Online won’t be reliable enough. If that’s the case for you, you can try a free Office alternative; check out our comparison of LibreOffice and OpenOffice LibreOffice vs. OpenOffice: Which One Should You Use? Want a Microsoft Office alternative but confused about LibreOffice or OpenOffice? Here are the differences between the two. Read More to review two top choices.

Do You Have to Pay for Microsoft Word? No!

It’s great news that Microsoft Word and other Office apps are available online for free, as you don’t have to pay for the basic functionality. If you’ve never tried Office Online, you should test it out to see if it works for your needs. You could end up saving some money by using it instead of the regular Office.

As you may know, one of Office Online’s biggest competitors is the Google Docs suite. Have a look at our overview of Google Docs What Is Google Docs and How to Use It Google Docs can do more than you might realize. Let us show you how Google Docs works. Read More to learn more.

Related topics: Cloud Computing, Microsoft Office Online, Microsoft Word, Office Suites.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Kate
    October 10, 2019 at 9:17 pm

    I'm just looking for something I can use for copy-editing and proofreading documents with track changes. I had word 2013 on my laptop but it suddenly stopped working - I could open and edit the documents and track changes appeared to be working, but when i saved it, it saved in a different format (odt, which I think is open office, which i did think I had at the time) and although my changes were saved, the track changes stuff didn't show - only the comments. I have tried open office and have the same problem - I can use their version of track changes, but when I open it in word (as my client will do) it doesn't show my changes. This online version of word doesn't seem to have it either. Is there any free alternative to word that has track changes or equivalent, and is compatible with word?

  2. Cathleen Caffrey
    September 24, 2019 at 5:39 pm

    I was able to get to where I could download the apps. BUT it only appears to work in Edge and I don't use Edge. The description I read before downloading said an icon would appear on the Edge screen that would allow me to use the apps. Are you aware of any way to get the apps on Firefox. Or am I misunderstanding something? I thought Windows apps worked inside windows, not a particular browser.

    • Ben Stegner
      September 26, 2019 at 3:56 pm

      Hi Cathleen, you actually shouldn't have to download any apps to use Office Online as it all runs in your browser. I've used Office Online in Chrome for some time and never had an issue, so you definitely shouldn't have to use Edge.

      As long as you're signed into a Microsoft Account, you should be able to access Word Online in your browser here:

      Click the grid of squares in the top-left corner to switch to other apps.

  3. Bob Emnett
    September 24, 2019 at 1:48 am

    Sounds good ... right up to the point of 'no macros.' I would love to find an alternative to Word/Excel. However, I have written about 150 macros for Excel and probably 25 for Word. I actively use about a third of the former and half a dozen of the latter and would find either application useless without those macros. So for now at least, I guess I'll struggle along with my 'outdated' versions of both apps. For the record, I am on Mac OS's - so the latest versions of Office for Mac do not support macros, thus the 'outdated' description.

  4. Pugsley Myhopper III
    December 26, 2018 at 3:02 pm

    It isn't free anymore. Like a drug dealer, it's free until you get everything in there and then they start charging you. Time to abandon all Microsoft products, specially this evergreen, software as a service BS.

    • Maryon Jeane
      September 23, 2019 at 12:18 pm

      Couldn't agree more, Pugsley!

  5. Diane
    February 12, 2018 at 4:31 am

    your download link gave me virus and now i cannot boot. i am on a friend's laptop. how do i fix?

  6. 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?

  7. Anonymous
    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.

  8. 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?

    • Anonymous
      October 29, 2015 at 1:16 am

      You can't download Office 'Online', hence the name. You just have to visit 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'.

  9. 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.

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

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

    • Maryon Jeane
      September 23, 2019 at 12:24 pm

      Absolutely, Rengab - I just can't understand how anyone in their right mind would trust their confidential documents to Microsoft and/or the Cloud.

  11. 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.

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

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

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

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

    First OpenOffice now LibreOffice forever

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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 :/

  20. 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.

  21. 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