Microsoft Office Online: A Second Look

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I recently reviewed Microsoft Office Online at This was the first publicly-available version of the suite and is aimed at Facebook users who want to share documents.

Microsoft recently released the official version of Office Online at You’ll need a Windows Live ID and password, but Hotmail users will already have one of those. Your files are saved to SkyDrive space which provides 25GB of free storage: certainly enough for the most prolific writers.

Note that Office Online is only available in US, UK, Canada, and Ireland. If you’re living elsewhere, you can try this link, but the applications may not appear in your language.

Bugs Begone

If you were disappointed by the buggy, you’ll be pleased to hear Office Live is far superior. They’re obviously the same applications, but Office Live is a more recent version and I didn’t experience the JavaScript errors and bizarre behavior I noticed in my first review. It still has quirks — such as Word’s save icon and no formula assistance in Excel — but it’s far more usable.

Unfortunately, speed remains an issue. Office Online is far more sluggish than Google Docs and it’s especially evident when you’re using Internet Explorer. Chrome offers the best experience.

Wonderful OneNote?

OneNote is one of the more underrated Office applications. I’ve used it on and off for several years, but I don’t know anyone else who does? It’s a note-taking application which lets you to enter random post-it messages, pictures, snippets, or handwriting (if you have a tablet PC).

It’s a great application but is somewhat overshadowed by online alternatives and Evernote which saves data to the cloud and lets you access your notes from anywhere. Fortunately, hardcore OneNote users can now upload their notebooks and edit them online. It’s also one of the more usable applications in the suite.

Microsoft OneNote online

OneNote online also permits you to create new notebooks, add pages and sections, and insert notes, tables, pictures and links. It retains a history of all changes so you can jump back to previous revisions. Like the other apps, it offers a slightly bizarre reading view which is almost identical to editing view except that you can’t change anything.

Finally it’s possible to share notebooks and collaborate with others in real time. OneNote and Excel are the only Office Online applications to offer that facility but I suspect Word and PowerPoint will catch up soon.

Application Augmentation

The real power of Office Online is reserved for those who use the desktop applications. Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote documents can be imported and Office 2010 offers a “save to web” option. Unlike its competitors, Office Online will handle huge files and preserve all formatting. A little additional functionality can also appear in the online applications when you’ve used a particular feature in the desktop version.

Office Online should not be compared to Google Docs, Zoho and similar applications offering web-based document creation and real-time collaboration. They are competing with Microsoft Office: Office Online is simply a bonus feature for that suite.

Effectively, Office Online is a document reader with a limited editing facilities. In that respect, it’s more than capable and it could be especially useful to businesses operating SharePoint 2010 Server which comes with a copy of the applications. Companies sharing documents across Windows, Mac and Linux platforms may see benefits.

Individuals and small business owners hoping to replace their expensive office suites will be disappointed. Office Online is designed for existing Microsoft Office users. Understandably, Microsoft was never likely to provide a powerful online version of their desktop suite and stem the flow of their second largest revenue stream.

Craig BucklerCraig Buckler
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Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.

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