Office 365

Office 365 feature focus: Office Online

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Generally when companies roll out Office 365 they typically start with Exchange for email and then SharePoint for content or document management. Some never venture further than that. But Office 365 has so much more to offer. In fact many don’t realise the platform includes an almost complete version of the classic Office suite – with versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Lync, and Project. Initially Office Online, as the Cloud suite is now known, was released as Office Web Apps. In February 2014 it was rebranded to Office Online, as part of a wider refresh by Microsoft.

Office Online is to Microsoft what Google Docs is for Google. Google Docs however takes a different approach and tries to be as simple as possible. Office Web Apps was designed to mimic the features and functionality of the full Office desktop clients. In this blog post we will look at the various features these powerful applications include.

The full range of Office applications

The following applications are available as part of Office Online:

● Word
● Outlook
● OneNote
● PowerPoint
● Excel
● OneDrive

Some of the later tools to be added to the Office desktop suite, like InfoPath and Publisher are not available – they still require the Office clients to be installed. InfoPath is even being discontinued with this format, with Microsoft announcing earlier this year it is retiring the technology altogether.

Key features

The apps themselves contain a wealth of features and functions. Take Word Online for example. It features the same ‘Modern UI’ and Ribbon interface, and a good 80% of the most popular features, of the main application. It does lack some of the more advanced desktop publishing and layout features to be found in its big brother but the vast majority of users would be hard pressed to notice the difference. It is easy to take this feature parity for granted. But again consider Google Docs, which started life as a very spare simple text editor and has gradually added a few extra features. Microsoft took the opposite approach, and is trying to replicate its desktop tools almost exactly. We have to say in their current incarnation Office Online isn’t far off at all.

Being a Cloud based suite all of the apps benefit from the following Internet connected features:

Compatible in all major browsers like IE, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Opera.

Edit documents stored online in OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, SharePoint Online, or SharePoint on-premises.

Upload documents from the client application, and edit seamlessly online.

● Work on one document with multiple people at the same time (co-authoring), even with people who are using a different client like the desktop client, Office for Mac, or mobile apps.

Convert PDF documents to editable Word documents.

Auto-save: Office Online does not have a save button, all changes are saved automatically. Changes made by other people appear in near as real-time.

Power users may still need the desktop

Microsoft is doing a really good job of keeping Office Online up to date with new features, and uses its Office 365 Roadmap site to inform the public. But such is the wealth of functionality in the desktop apps that it would be impossible for Office Online to match them 100%. Some of the notable features power users may miss include:

Tracked changes in Word: It is possible to add comments, but it’s not possible to keep track of changes in a Word document.

Edit and run macros in Excel: Macros are disabled in Excel Online. To edit and run macros, the desktop client is required.

Developer options: The desktop client allows for a Developer ribbon group with options to customise the Office client beyond the configuration. This is unavailable in Office Online.

The good news is the Online apps integrate really nicely with the desktop applications. Which means users can switch between the two with relative ease.

A power suite of tools

Office Online offers webs version for all important Office client applications like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. The suite is particularly powerful when used as part of Office 365, integrated as it is with SharePoint and OneDrive for Business. For example, e-mails can be opened using Outlook Online, saved into SharePoint Online, and edited in Word Online before saving into OneNote Online. It does not require any client software, so it’s really easy to switch between machines without requiring a software installation or break in workflow.

Unlike Google Docs, with Office Online Microsoft is trying to offer a hi-fidelity Cloud based desktop replacement. There is still work to do, but with new functionality being added regularly, the gap is rapidly closing. We are certainly excited to see what Microsoft adds as we move into 2015.