Microsoft Office Online review: Work with your favorite Office formats for free

All the Office essentials without the hefty price tag.

Credit: Michael Ansaldo/IDG

Price: Free

Platform: Online

Not to be outdone by Google and its free online office suite, Microsoft offers its own gratis web-based apps in Microsoft Office Online. The suite includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote and is accessible to anyone with a desktop browser. There are mobile versions of each app for iOS and Android, and a dedicated extension for Google’s Chrome browser.

This review is part of our roundup of best Microsoft Office alternatives. Go there for details on competing products and buying advice.

Hands on

The app interfaces for Office Online look and navigate pretty much like their desktop counterparts, and therein lies the appeal. If you’re on the road or otherwise away from your trusty PC version of Word, you can open a doc in the web version of the app—no conversion required—and dive right in. As these apps are made for down-and-dirty editing, you’ll notice some omissions on the tool ribbon—the Designs, References, and Mailings tabs are gone from Word, for example—but all the basic functionality is accounted for.

As with Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, Office Online works right inside your browser. Also like the Google suite, it requires your documents be uploaded to the cloud—in this case to Microsoft OneDrive—before you can edit them. If you lose internet access, there’s no way to work on those files offline without one of Microsoft’s paid Office products.

excel online Michael Ansaldo/IDG

Office Online offers slimmed-down versions of Microsoft’s desktop programs, so not all features are supported.

These slimmed down-versions of the big three productivity apps are aimed primarily at home users, so you won’t find pivot tables, fancy formatting options, or more advanced business-oriented capabilities. Many file formats that are supported in the desktop versions of the apps—.csv files, as one example—are not supported here. You can, however, collaborate in real-time in any of the apps with other Office users, including taking advantage of Skype integration.

Standout features

  • Familiar Office interface
  • Works with native Office formats, no conversion required
  • Allows real-time collaboration with other Office users

Missing features

  • Offline editing
  • Many of Office’s advanced capabilities
  • Doesn’t support some popular file types

Microsoft Office Online is best for:

Office Online is an excellent way to work with Microsoft document formats if you have modest needs or you’re on the road and just need to quickly view a file and make some simple edits. But as it was really made to complement rather than replace desktop Office installations, it doesn’t have the advanced functionality business users require to make it your main tool.

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Michael Ansaldo

PC World (US online)
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