Free Microsoft Office Online?

Category: Software

A reader asks: 'Can I really get Microsoft Office online for free? I bought a new computer that has no word processor or spreadsheet program, and I don't want to pay $250 for Office 2013 if that's true. Please tell me if this online version is the real thing.' Read on for the answer...

Microsoft Office for Free? Yes!

It's true. For several years, Microsoft has been quietly offering a free online version of some popular Office products, including Word, Excel and PowerPoint. They don't have every feature found in their desktop counterparts, but for most tasks they'll get the job done.

You needn't be concerned about the software police knocking on your door, or getting a nasty virus from a rogue pirated version of Office. It's legit, and it's really free.

Microsoft is refining its cloud-based productivity software offerings in an effort to catch up with Google Apps, which currently holds a commanding lead in this fast-growing market. Microsoft's first stab at going online with its flagship Office productivity suite was called “Microsoft Web Apps.”

Free Office Online

The latest news is that it’s now renamed Office Online and it incorporates some apps not found in its predecessor. Perhaps the best part (besides the absence of a price tag) is that cloud-based software requires no download, installation or updates. You just login to a website, and the software runs right in your web browser.

So what can this free online version of Microsoft Office do for you? Office Web Apps provided free access to cloud-based, lightweight versions of four popular Office modules: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Office Online includes these four plus Outlook, Calendar, People (contacts), and OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) for cloud storage and collaboration. It’s still free for those who register a Microsoft account.

Supported Web browsers include Internet Explorer 7 or later and the latest versions of Firefox, Google Chrome, and Safari. It’s good to see Microsoft finally admit there are other browsers.

What About Google Docs?

The free version of Office Online competes with Google Docs. The latter is now found at the Google Drive site where it’s called Drive Apps. The apps include Docs (word processing), Sheets (spreadsheets), and Slides (presentations). These Drive Apps correspond to MS Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, respectively.

Of course, you need a Google account to use Drive Apps, and that comes with all sort of other productivity apps: Gmail, Google Talk/Chat, and the optional Google Voice virtual phone number service, to name a few. Both Office Online and Google have you well covered.

Compatibility with MS Office document formats is one of the key differences between the two services. Google does a pretty good job of reading and writing Office documents, but for advanced formatting in Word or high-powered math functions in Excel there is no substitute for Office. If you’re a business user whose work is shared with other Office users, you need Office Online.

Students, small business owners, and casual home users can get along fine with either of these free suites. The Google apps tend to be simpler and easier to use than Microsoft’s.

Can It Be That Simple?

Um, no. In addition to the traditional desktop Microsoft Office software that was used to create the Magna Carta, and the free Microsoft Office Online (which was formerly known as Microsoft Web Apps), Microsoft also offers Office 365, a paid version of Office that's a hybrid of desktop and cloud computing. There are three pricing structures for Office 365: one for Home, one for Student, and one for Business users. Home and Business both come in a variety of flavors -- here's the scoop.

Home users can use Office 365 Home Premium on up to 5 devices. That can be a mix PCs, Macs, and smartphones, for $120/year. You get both offline and online access to all of the Office programs (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Publisher, and Access). Students get an even better deal: the same mix of programs costs just $80 for 4 years, and can be installed on 2 PCs or Macs. And in Microsoft's long tradition of confusing product names and options, they've announced that sometime in Spring 2014, they'll be renaming Office 365 Home Premium as simply Office 365 Home, and will begin offering Office 365 Personal ($70/year, one PC or Mac, and one tablet).

Office 365 Business is intended for small to medium sized businesses who do not want the hassle of installing and updating multiple copies of Office in-house. Per-use pricing ranges from $60 per year for up to 25 users to $180 per year for up to 300 users. Beyond 300 users, Office Enterprise servers are required.

Free is Good - Cloud is Good

Cloud-based services are being taken for granted by the upcoming generation of users. They expect to be able to share their work with others easily; to have access to their work on any of their mobile or desktop devices; and to let someone else take care of upgrading and maintaining the security of their applications. And more and more, people expect software to be free, too.

Office Online, Google Apps, and other cloud services are the future. But Microsoft has a lot of catching up to do. Gartner Research estimates that Google Apps has 120 million users while Office Online has 30 million. Microsoft will have to make Office Online easier on casual users and build as much trust as Google enjoys.

Have you ditched the paid versions of Microsoft Office in favor of a free web-based alternative? Post your comment or question below...

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This article was posted by on 24 Mar 2014

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Most recent comments on "Free Microsoft Office Online?"

Posted by:

24 Mar 2014

Thank you,
LOL to "...Microsoft Office software that was used to create the Magna Carta..."

Posted by:

24 Mar 2014

Since the free version of MS Office is cloud-based, is it possible to create a Word document for example and save it to my computer's hard-drive? Without having it also saved in OneDrive?

Posted by:

bob price
24 Mar 2014

I like the idea of free online Word, but it's confusing. You cannot name a file, and it's saved as "Document1", "Document2" etc. It will get rather confusing when I get up to "Document47" and no idea what's in which file.

Posted by:

Stuart Berg
24 Mar 2014

Even though the future is in Cloud Computing, it would be good to know if the online free version of Office has the ability to read/write documents directly from/to the PC hard drive.

Posted by:

24 Mar 2014

I'm using Office 2000. The "upgrades" have annoyed me. Guess I'm a Luddite.

Posted by:

24 Mar 2014

And you've been keeping this a secret all this time? But what sort of thing will the freebie not do? And in a word, what sort of differences are there between the three types of 365? Oh, and are all these goodies available worldwide? I am really sick of the things you can get in the US of A that don't reach us in Israel, like paid movies for example - and then people complain if we go for the not quite so legal stuff...

Posted by:

24 Mar 2014

i had just tried the 30 day trial of Microsoft office when i found the web based version.It works very well.I can work at home and work..My daughter uses it at school and home also.No trouble opening docs i cancelled my order and use the online yes it does work well..

Posted by:

24 Mar 2014

I haven't ditched resident Office yet. I travel to parts of the US where web access via wireless is sketchy at best and prevents me from being able to update that powerpoint before my next meeting.

Posted by:

Peter Ballantyne
24 Mar 2014

As a church minister running an extensive rural parish in the deep south of New Zealand I have always used Microsoft Office since the days of Office 97. I surrently have Office 2010 installed but have to admit I am using the online version more and more. With all my files on Onedrive I must admit I very rarely ever use the locally installed version any more. As you so rightly point out Bob, it is the way of the future.

Posted by:

Janet K. Cook
24 Mar 2014

What about storage? One nice thing about Google Apps is that they store instantly and are easily sharable. It would be nice to have a more fully functional program, but don't want to lose the storage capability.

Posted by:

24 Mar 2014

I went with Open Office (now Apache Office) a long time ago as I was too cheap to shell out for a Microsoft Suite I hardly used. I've since upgraded to Libre Office, and it's pretty darn good. the catch being the difficulty in sharing work in a group/business environment when everyone is scattered around the country. So I've recently started using Google Drive, as my main collaborative workplace uses Google and gmail for most of their "office" operations.

One feature of Drive that I don't think exists with the MS cloud product is that I can download a version of drive to my computer and work on things off-line (yes there are places and situations where internet connectivity doesn't exist... or I have to pay for it.). So far Drive has been close to the best of both worlds. The main gripe is uploading documents created with MS Office seem to have formatting issues with Drive. Some carefully crafted word processing documents and tables sometimes seem to go berzerk...

Posted by:

ray marsh
24 Mar 2014

Hi Bob, thanks for the great newsletter mate. Read with great interest about cloud computing including MS office cloud version, one wonders where is the "cloud computing" push taking us. Nothing is ever for free and advertising does cover some cost, but the question remains when will they (the cloud servers) demand their pound of flesh? Cheers mate.

Posted by:

25 Mar 2014

Bob ... Last summer, I purchased MS Office 2013 Professional Plus for 2 PCs. I got a good price on it and no, I didn't get it from a Pirate Website. I gave one to my son-in-law, out in California, since, he needed to use it for his job. I kept the other PC copy, so, that I would have the updated version of MS Office.

One thing I noticed, when setting up MS Office 2013 Professional Plus ... You had the option to either be apart of the "Cloud" MS Office 2013, for a annual fee or use your COA number and keep it strictly on your PC. I chose to use the COA number. Why, would I purchased the DVD of MS Office 2013 Professional Plus for $200 plus dollars, to select the "Cloud" MS Office 2013 for an annual fee???!!!

That option, made absolutely NO sense to me!!! In my opinion ... MS was trying to make even more bucks ... Off of their customers.

Now, I do have a Google account, but, prefer not to use the Drive application. I am basically, not afraid of using the "cloud" format ... I just like to have my own copy, on my hard drive and back-up external hard drive, of all my documents. First of all, I am retired, I don't need to use a "cloud" format, for the little, that I do with documents and etc..

Overall, I am satisfied with my purchase, plus having an updated MS Office. My last MS Office was XP Pro, so, I really did need to update. I am also, using Windows & Professional - 64Bit Operating System. I am well pleased with this version. I was afraid, that I wouldn't be happy ... But, I am and is really wasn't hard to make the transition, from Windows XP Professional to Windows 7 Professional. I seem to like the Professional versions of MS Windows. I also, love the NTFS file format, that comes with the Professional version ... Though, I think, the NTFS file format is available for Windows 7 Home Edition, not for sure though.

Posted by:

25 Mar 2014

Ahhh Bob, the absolute benefits of competition in a free market environment. Like Robert yonks ago I switched to Open (Apache) office which serve my meagre needs more than adequately. In time, I foresee MS Office going the way of the dinosaurs :)

Don't get me started on Android Vs Windows

Posted by:

25 Mar 2014

The "Cloud" seems just like the days of dumb terminals and servers to me. Are we going backward here? I suppose if you can't afford a fully functional computer then the "cloud" might be a good idea, particularly for "free" options but computing and storage online are not always available (can't connect, etc.)and there's a greater risk of data being compromised by a stranger (or a government). There are also many "free" software products available that can be installed directly on your computer. I'm sticking with keeping programs and data on my own computer and hard drive with multiple backups.

Posted by:

Art Frailey
28 Mar 2014

Yeah, I think I am with Reg on this. With one exception. I use one portable disk drive, and extra on a USB if I want to show something somewhere in a hurry.

Posted by:

25 Apr 2014

I've used open office for several years. It's free and it works and it's flexible. It lets me deal with inputs as pdf, jpg etc and produces output that seems fine for all purposes.
Following your article, and needing to send several large files to a colleague, I tried the microsoft cloud offering. In summary, it's rubbish. I couldn't do half the things I wanted and the menu's are as obscure as a cloud (it's called fog).
It's just possible that I'm being unfair and all the necessary bits are in there somewhere, but life's too short to find them, and I really don't care to operate with a hard sales pitch going on in the background

Posted by:

26 Dec 2014

This information was very helpful...Just got daughter a laptop for xmas for school work. This will work out find, I won't have to invest in buying software.

Posted by:

30 Dec 2014

The free Office on-line is great if one lives in the cloud. But most people I know live on earth and save their files on their computer(s).
To edit a file using this Office on-line one first has to upload the file to the Microsoft OneDrive cloud storage, then edit it, and finally, down-load it back to the computer whence it came. Not at all convenient for us Earth dwellers.
Office on-line is very powerful for a browser-based editor having maybe 50% of the functions of the full Office applications. ‘Course, most people don’t even need that much power.

Posted by:

01 Jun 2015

The cloud seems to have its own, expected, security issues and is not available w/o an inet connection. I often update my docs and novellas offline. And I still STRONGLY prefer WordPerfect for its price, compatibility, performance and their user friendly attitude. Getting 'old' versions [I'm on 14 now] for a song still lets me open docs from the mid 80's- MS dictates what we can use and open!

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