Free Microsoft Office Online?
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.”
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...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 24 Mar 2014
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Free Microsoft Office Online? (Posted: 24 Mar 2014)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved