What is Microsoft Office Online

Office comparison: online or classic?

Peter Stelzel-Morawietz

Office to install on the PC or in the cloud? Free, to buy or as a subscription? PC-WELT explains the advantages and disadvantages of the different variants and how you can work productively with them in a team and via smartphone.

EnlargeOpenOffice or LibreOffice - who wins the favor of office users?
© iStockphoto / H-Gall

Things used to be easy with Office: you installed a software package, usually MicrosoftOffice or the free Open Office, and you're done. In the meantime, there are not only various free web applications such as Microsoft Office Online and Google Docs (plus: Sheets, Slides and Forms), Microsoft itself also offers, in addition to the classic Office package for installation, a cloud package for a fee: Office 365 is not just for Companies, but also available to private users, differs from Office 2016 in many ways.

However, it is not easy to fathom exactly where the differences lie. The Microsoft explanation page "What is Office 365?" "Only helps to a limited extent. The possibilities of use are already unclear: Sometimes it is said of the cheapest subscription model, Office 365 Personal is "installable on 1 PC or Mac", sometimes "Install the versions on up to three devices". The contradiction is resolved insofar as the license is valid for a PC or Mac and also for a tablet and smartphone. The United Internet (1 & 1, Web.de) explanations are better than Microsoft: In their “Digital Guide” you will find all Office products explained in detail and in an understandable way.

This guide is also intended to provide an overview of the office jungle, although we do not limit ourselves to Microsoft's office software. Because we also highlight competing products such as Google Docs & Co., explain the advantages and disadvantages of online and offline use and explain the tariff complex.

Tip: The best tips and tricks for Microsoft Office 2016

Online office is available (almost) everywhere and offers teamwork

EnlargeMicrosoft's Office apps are suitable for Android phones and tablets.

A classic Office package, regardless of whether it is the free Open Office, Libre Office or a commercial product such as Microsoft Office 2016, is installed on the Windows computer. Use does not require an account with the manufacturer, the documents are initially saved locally or on the network hard drive. If you want to exchange files and edit them together with others, you have to share them on a cloud storage device such as Dropbox, Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive. In practice, documents are often still sent back and forth by e-mail, which takes an unnecessarily long time and quickly ends in version chaos.

This is different with online, cloud or web office, where Office documents are located centrally on a server. Each authorized person only works with the current file version. And since the saving is always automatic, it remains with exactly this one document. Because the providers of online word processing, spreadsheets and presentation link their services directly with their online storage, they also solve the complex problem of several people working together on one file. This is the only reason why two or more users on Google Docs, Microsoft Office Online or Office 365 can edit a file at the same time. An authorization link by e-mail is sufficient for approval, and the addressee receives access or editing rights. If desired, colored markings show who has created, changed or deleted what. A chat function is ideal for voting, although hardly any of the free web services currently offer it.

Work offline with Google Docs

Google Docs and the other office applications of the search engine group, in conjunction with the Google Drive cloud storage, allow Office files to be edited offline. If you do not have an internet connection while traveling, all files that have been edited in the meantime are automatically synchronized via the cloud with the correct settings as soon as you are online again.

This is how it works: You need the Chrome browser on the Windows PC. After logging in with your Google account, call up the Google Drive settings, activate the "offline" function and finish with "Done". Alternatively, go to the Google page “Docs” (or “Spreadsheets” or “Presentations”) and click on the menu icon with the three slashes in the top left, followed by clicks on “Settings -> Offline”. In addition, you have to open the files on each device that are later to be edited offline once via Google Drive. In the following, click in the file overview of the cloud storage for each of these files on the three points on the right (below) and activate "Available offline" in the context menu.

Please note that offline use is not preset in the Chrome browser under Windows and is not available in other browsers. On Chromebooks with Chrome OS and in the Office apps (Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google Slides) for Android, iOS and Windows 10 (Mobile), however, the offline function is automatically activated after the app has been installed.

Differences between web office and desktop installation

EnlargeCompared to Office 365 and Office 2016, many functions are missing in Office Online.

That leads us to the question of whether the free offers are full office products: the answer is yes and no. "Yes" because the programs from Google and the lesser-known provider Zoho offer almost everything that private individuals and company employees need in everyday office life. Even a term paper or thesis with a table of contents and footnotes is not a problem for Google Docs. “No” because Microsoft Office, which is subject to a fee, has many special functions ready. Whether you really need this or not is an open question. The table shows the key features of three free web services for office software in comparison. In terms of features, Google and Zoho clearly stand out from the far behind Microsoft. At first, using Zoho is a bit more tedious, but after a short time you will know where which function is located. Zoho Docs is definitely worth trying out.

Another advantage of online office is the ability to use the file content across platforms and on the move. Provided you have an Internet connection, you will always have access to your Office files. It is a little more complicated that the providers have special mobile apps for Android and iOS in addition to the browser version. These are optimized for touch operation and small screens. In practice, the mobile apps are usually preferable to the browser variants - with Microsoft this means Word online, Excel online and so on. Because Microsoft, for example, makes using the browser on smartphones and tablets unnecessarily difficult with the functions “write protection”, “request desktop version” and “edit in browser”. In addition, problems occurred when re-synchronizing with Onedrive after it had been offline in the meantime. The online apps from Word, Excel & Co. process the scenario without any effort. You can read in the box how you can use Google's popular online office without an internet connection and what you need to consider.

See also: Twelve helpful tips & tricks for everything to do with Office

Limits to free office use and the security issue