Friday, April 17, 2015

Microsoft's best kept secret: Office Online

By Steve Endow

Have you heard of Google Docs?  It's a set of fully browser based applications for editing documents.  Think of it as an online version of Microsoft Word that only runs in  your web browser.  There is also Google Sheets, which is a browser based version of Excel.  You can share files with people, control permissions, and best of all, multiple people can edit the same document online at the exact same time--a feature now generally referred to as "collaboration" or "online collaboration".

Google fans--the ones who use Android phones and spurn all-things-Microsoft, talk about how great Google Docs is compared to MS Office, and hey, it's free!  I know of many people that rag on Office as being old and clunky, because, gasp!, it requires an installation on a computer.

Here's one example.

I totally agree with this post--if it is referring to the desktop version of MS Word / MS Office.  It is a nightmare to get edits from several people and combine and merge them.  It simply wasn't designed to do that.

But did you know that Microsoft offers the same thing as Google Docs and Google Sheets?  A fully browser-based online version of MS Office that offers sharing, permissions, and online document collaboration.  And it is remarkably similar to the version of Office you have installed on your PC.

Really.  No joke.

It's called Office Online.  And it is INCREDIBLE.

In this screen shot, I'm editing a Word document using Word Online in two different browsers to demonstrate the live collaboration functionality.  I'm signed in to my Office 365 account in IE, but have shared the document and am also editing it in Chrome.

The changes made in one browser immediately appear to other users.  Just like Google Docs.

Yes, Microsoft does have paid plans for Office Online, so you may not be able to do everything you want with a free account.  And yes, understanding the plans and potential confusion with Office 365 is likely limiting adoption when compared to the 'everybody knows its free' approach with Google.

Here is a video discussing Office Online vs. Office 365:

But if you have ever used Google Docs or Sheets, the functionality doesn't compare to MS Office.  At least I don't think so--but then again, I hate the Gmail interface, while I know people who thing Gmail is the cat's meow, so that's apparently personal preference.

So it's a great tool, but there are obviously a few caveats.  If you don't want your documents in the cloud, or if your corporate policies do not allow documents to be stored online, then Office Online, and Google Docs as well, are not an option.  And if you use the free version of Office Online, then there are some limitations to the features available.

Admittedly, in my case, I'm still old school and am used to having files stored locally on my computers.  While I do store some files online in OneDrive, I do not use it as the sole or primary repository, so using Office Online is currently a limited tool for me--for the rare cases where I might need others to collaboratively edit a document.

But if you need to get input on a document or spreadsheet from several people and have the option of hosting the file online, at least temporarily, you can use Office Online, and you always have the option to download the file when you are done and remove it from the cloud.

And all of this functionality integrates well with the fantastic Office Mobile, which works with iOS, Android, and Windows mobile.

Give it a try, and spread the word that there is a better alternative to Google Docs! (IMHO)

Steve Endow is a Microsoft MVP for Dynamics GP and a Dynamics GP Certified IT Professional in Los Angeles.  He is the owner of Precipio Services, which provides Dynamics GP integrations, customizations, and automation solutions.

You can also find him on Google+ and Twitter

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