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Office Web Apps

A Viable Alternative to Microsoft Office?

Web Apps No matter how big or small, no matter how old or new your business is or if you're an individual, student or teacher, cost matters. The more the things you have to buy cost, the less of what you make you get to keep.

That may be true sometimes, but not always. What if the free or low cost product or service you buy ends up costing you more because you have to buy something else to make up for its shortcomings? Or tasks might take longer cutting into time you could use for something more productive. The art of cutting cost in the right places is a balancing act and depends on your particular circumstances.

Today, we're going to take a look at Microsoft Office Web Apps. Could you get by with this free suite of office productivity applications?


Office Web Apps comes with OneDrive, formerly known as Skydrive, a free online storage solution from Microsoft. It also comes as part of all Microsoft Office 365 plans except Hosted Exchange Online.


If you have a Microsoft ID, you're all set. If you have done anything with Hotmail or Live Messenger before, you probably already have one. If not, it is easy to get. Simply go to and follow the instructions there.

To be able to do any of that, of course, you're going to need Internet access.

What is OneDrive?

OneDrive is an online service providing storage space for electronic files and making them accessible through the Internet. In other words, your files are not stored on your own computer but on Microsoft's.

There are a couple of really neat benefits to this approach.
  1. You participate in Microsoft's vast resources to get
    1. Way more reliable backups than you could get on your own.
    2. Way better reliability than your own computer offers
    3. Better security
    4. No additional hardware or software to purchase
  2. Access your files anywhere there is Internet access
  3. Share your files with other people, even work on them simultaneously
The weakness is that you need Internet access to do any of that. Make sure it's a good one.

All is not lost when the Internet fails, however. OneDrive comes with a program that synchronizes the content of your OneDrive account with a folder on your computer so you can work on your documents online or offline. To be able to work offline, however, you will need the commercial version of Office installed on your computer. The free Web Apps only work when you're connected to the Internet.

When Internet access is re-established the online files will be updated automatically. When you install the OneDrive program on several computers, tablets or phones, your files will be available on all of them.

The OneDrive program cannot be installed on Windows XP or Linux computers, but you can still edit the documents online with Office Web Apps.

What is Office Web Apps?

Web apps are light versions of the office productivity programs almost everyone either know or have heard of, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Nothing needs to be installed on your computer. They work entirely on the Internet.

How Do Free Web Apps Stack Up Against the Full Versions?

Of course Microsoft is in the business of selling office productivity software and giving it away for free doesn't really work that well for them on its own.

While Office Web Apps offer some real benefits in terms of collaboration and availability everywhere any time, there are some limitations. The limitations are mainly in the capabilities of the programs, Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint. If you're an advanced user of any of these, you can stop reading now. You will find them severely lacking.

The question is, "How many of your needs can be met this way?" The answer, of course, depends entirely what you plan to do with them.

It shouldn't take you long to figure out whether Office Web Apps will do the job for you or you have to look for something else.

  1. Word
    All basic editing functions such as font, size, bold and underline are available. You can also format the page layout, change margins and the orientation of the pages. You can even insert tables, pictures, headers and footers.

    Where Word Web Apps comes up short is in the area of advanced features such as mail merge, automatic table of content generation, starting from a template and the like that are not supported at all.

    Other features such as table formatting, search and replace are limited.

  2. Excel
    Again, some features are supported but only in a limited fashion. That applies to formulas, search and replace, for example. Other features like advanced analysis tools, conditional formatting aren't supported at all. It does do basic calculation and formatting of cells just like the full version.

  3. OneNote
    The shortcomings are mainly in the areas of video and audio, Outlook integration, template support and a few others.

  4. PowerPoint
    What you're likely to be missing first are animations and transitions, table creation, headers and footers. Audio and video can be viewed but not inserted.

What if you Need More?

That depends on your particular situation. If you do need the ability to share documents and to collaborate with others, there really is only one viable option, the Microsoft Office Suite.

If you're on an isolated island, give options like OpenOffice or LibreOffice a try. They are similar and quite good. They just can't save in the .docx format required to be compatible with Web Apps.

You can still save the files in OneDrive, Google Drive or Dropbox to share with others who also have OpenOffice, LibreOffice or Microsoft Office. You just can't edit them in Web Apps.
Finn MauritzenMy name is Finn Mauritzen and  I am your host here at Christian Artli.  My goal is to help you live a better life.

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