Office Web Apps: Can it replace desktop Office?

Office Web Apps: Can it replace desktop Office?

Summary: If you were to replace desktop Office applications with online Office Web Apps for quick, simple academic or office tasks, how easy is it to survive on the web versions of Office alone?

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Anyone who has been to college knows the pressure of an essay deadline, just as those working away from the office will no doubt need to at some point have to scramble in a mad panic to finish something.

But knowing your luck, your computer is broken, or you've spilled beer on it - or worse, your kids thought it would be a brilliant idea to smear jam into the keyboard of your laptop, condemning your work to a sticky, sugary grave.

Now that Office Web Apps, Microsoft's online office applications which links in to SkyDrive and Office Live, the student email system, how easy is it to survive on the web versions of Office alone? I tested this using an essay I am half way through completing to see how it compared.

Gallery To see how Office Web Apps (specifically Word and Excel) match up against the desktop Microsoft Office suite, head on over to the step-by-step screenshot gallery.

Loads of people - students and myself included, use the cloud in one way or another to either backup files or access them from anywhere. Since Google Docs came on the scene in 2006 as an experimental project, it blew open the array of online office suites.

But they were never very good at them, frankly. The vast majority of people still use Microsoft Office and any non-Microsoft technology kicked out compatibility issues with duff margins, weird formatting errors and don't even get me started on when it came to printing stuff. I may as well have written it by hand in the first place.

The very basic features needed to write an essay or to perform the vast majority of academic tasks include:

Of course everybody is different, and the need to use different functions vary across the board. But I can conclude that it's not bad. Stop the presses: Zack finally says something remotely nice about Microsoft? Indeed.

Unfortunately some useful functions such as true integration of web-based Excel files and graphs cannot be imported into web-based Word documents, nor does footnoting or header and footer function work. On the other hand, if an Office document is uploaded but the counterpart web application cannot display it, it doesn't cut it out. Instead it just hides it from view ready to be displayed once desktop Office loads it or the web application prints it.

However, for those who have used Office Web Apps via Office Live, which in itself is via SkyDrive, you will know how mind-numbingly difficult it can be to use. The previous sentence should give you an idea as to how confusing it is.

You can use Windows Live Sync to synchronise files to and from SkyDrive as well as other machines, and manage your devices through Devices, though the synchronisation status takes you back and forth from Devices and SkyDrive, and somehow your email can be integrated in there too. Frankly, after using it for a few minutes you will want to tear your hair out.

But on the whole, Office Web Apps is a viable, short term solution to get what you need up on screen. Even if you are writing something offline, upload it, edit it in the web application and some bits appear missing - they are still there ready to be viewed in desktop Office and print-out's.

How has your experience with Office Web Apps been?

Topics: Collaboration, Hardware, Microsoft, Software

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43 comments
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  • RE: Office Web Apps: Can it replace desktop Office?

    Great write up Zack! Its going to come down to just how much customization you need on your document. If you need a highly detailed and customized document then the Office application is for you. If you are looking to just type up some notes or just need the basics of a powerful word editor than Office Web Apps is what you are looking for - but is dependent upon you having an available internet connection. Over all best value is the Office application, then use web based Office.
    Loverock Davidson
    • RE: Office Web Apps: Can it replace desktop Office?

      @Loverock Davidson

      Great write up?! What are you talking about? This post was fully as useless as all of Zack's other posts. ZD ought to drop him. He presented the drawbacks poorly and his conclusion didn't follow logically from his discussion. But this isn't only a problem with Zack, pretty much ALL of the ZD bloggers suck.
      ken@...
  • Zack, WebApps isn't intended to replace desktop Office

    You nailed it in your last paragraph. It's a viable, short term solution to get what you need up on screen. Microsoft has been primarily advertising it as a way to view and make quick edits to office document attachments in Hotmail.
    ericesque
    • Agreed

      @ericesque <br><br>And for those of us who don't have an Internet connection in our schools, web apps quickly becomes invalid. <img border="0" src="http://www.cnet.com/i/mb/emoticons/sad.gif" alt="sad">
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • RE: Office Web Apps: Can it replace desktop Office?

      @ericesque
      I'll have to disagree. I've been using live office word/excel for a few months. Its proven to be more than just a few quick edits. In fact don't most of us complain that word is too much, has too many features that most people 90% of the time don't need? Thats pretty much where live office is right now. For general purpose writing, its perfectly fine. What I do miss is right click functionality but I suppose thats something that javascript/jquery implementation can quickly fix.

      For something like office however, I really don't think its that big of a deal to install it locally unless you have half a dozen machines to install it on because then a live account would be cheaper. For me, the only thing I really need is remote saving of documents so that I can access it anywhere. Having office remotely only came in handy once or twice because for the most part, just about any PC would have word on it. But I do see a real value with full web app and I do see it as the future.
      rengek
    • RE: Office Web Apps: Can it replace desktop Office?

      @ericesque The desktop is a viable alternative for when you have no internet connection, but for day-to-day, the cloud keeps my documents, up to date, where I can get to them, from whatever computer I am on.
      rimbaud@...
  • Office Web Suffers Same Problem as Google Apps

    I enjoy using Office Web apps, but they suffer the same problem as Google apps - if you do not have a wifi connection, they are useless. In the rural area that I live, I can only find wifi at home and at the office. Verizon is the only one really covering the area as far as mobile, but there are many dead zones. Until there is blank coverage of the U.S., web apps will only be used in the short term - especially when on the road and using someone else's computer.
    drlake_blcs
    • Maybe they're just catering for the greater number?

      @drlake_blcs A lot more people are online worldwide than not, and there is an alternative of course. So by bringing out a web based app, it broadens the spectrum.
      zwhittaker
      • RE: Office Web Apps: Can it replace desktop Office?

        @zwhittaker
        but then you lose containment of your own work products. As a consultant, that is a deathnell sentence. Cloud products are nice in theory, but wont work. How do i work with it on the plane? When the hotel i am at has internet issues and its 2 am and my client is expecting work product at 8 am?
        tiderulz
  • You nailed it on Google too

    Their idea of a productivity suite is awful. I tried opening a Google document in Word to print and it looked terrible. Imagine that was your final assignment or a tender response?
    hubivedder
    • RE: Office Web Apps: Can it replace desktop Office?

      @hubivedder Why not print it straight off the screen?
      snoop0x7b
  • Lets put it in a simple way:

    You are a grad student working on an overdue project that must be turn in tomorrow. You are in the zone, typing away an drawing formulas, making charts ........ then Murphy hits.

    Some idiot in the middle of nowhere drilled a hole into the main artery of an Internet hub. Now you are screwed.

    That little web app no longer reacts to your commands. The save button is completely unresponsive and the "Internet Explorer cannot display the webpage" pops up. You panic ..... hit the back button ..... just to find out that all your hard work is now GONE.

    Because MS likes to lock files, that last save is no longer accessible. The web app locked it tight and refuse to release it. You instinctively open the browser to Google how to unlock the file .... but forgot that "the internet is broken".

    Conclusion: That office web app just drilled you worst than BP and that is not oil leaking ....... it is your future evaporating faster than a little block of ice in a hot frying pan.
    wackoae
  • RE: Office Web Apps: Can it replace desktop Office?

    I like the idea, but I dont want to run the app off the cloud (er net). I want to buy the server app and run it on my own server.
    jimk_z
  • RE: Office Web Apps: Can it replace desktop Office?

    Knowing Microsoft, I don't see this replacing the desktop version of Office anytime soon. Mostly due to it's limited features when compared. I do see a place for certain web apps taking place of their counterparts (when needed) but this isn't one of them.
    ZackCDLVI
    • RE: Office Web Apps: Can it replace desktop Office?

      @Zc456 So far, Google Docs has better spreadsheet editing than Office Live (such essential spreadsheet things like "fill" and other more general things like "paintbrush" copy and paste format). I expect Microsoft will catch up (unless they fear too much functionality will endanger the desktop versions).
      rimbaud@...
      • RE: Office Web Apps: Can it replace desktop Office?

        @rimbaud@... Yeah, you see that's why I think Office Live won't take off. Microsoft doesn't want it hinder their desktop sales.
        ZackCDLVI
  • Ummm, no.

    "But knowing your luck, your computer is broken, or you?ve spilled beer on it - or worse, your kids thought it would be a brilliant idea to smear jam into the keyboard of your laptop, condemning your work to a sticky, sugary grave."

    In 30 years, I've never seen it happen.
    NoAxToGrind
    • RE: Office Web Apps: Can it replace desktop Office?

      @NoAxToGrind Nor have I. Or even heard of it happening to anyone I know.
      twaynesdomain-22354355019875063839220739305988
  • RE: Office Web Apps: Can it replace desktop Office?

    I'll stick to my thumb drive for portable backups, thanks.
    PScooter63
  • RE: Office Web Apps: Can it replace desktop Office?

    Just another flog by Z Net, not to mention you seem to have very real understanding about what you write, get some ethics about and give balanced reporting, not a product flog for your mates at MS.
    zerg1961