Microsoft Office Web Apps review

Microsoft has spent the past five years reminding people that web apps can’t possibly match the power of dedicated desktop software. Now it finds itself in the slightly awkward position of launching its own Office Web Apps, in a belated attempt to counter the threat of Google Docs and others. So how does Microsoft justify this apparent U-turn?

On the face of it, the Microsoft and Google approaches seem similar. Both offer completely free access to online word processors, spreadsheets and presentation software from any web browser – in Microsoft’s case, via its SkyDrive storage service – and also to companies running SharePoint 2010 servers. Microsoft even goes the extra yard by throwing in the advanced note-taking abilities of OneNote.

OneNote Web App

Yet it soon becomes clear that Microsoft has taken a very different tack from its chief rival. While the online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote are very powerful indeed, the vast majority of that power is reserved for people who’ve already created documents in the desktop versions of Office.

Attempt to build a presentation from scratch using the PowerPoint Web App, for example, and you’ll have only a handful of fonts to work with; you can’t even change the background colour of slides. The only chance you’ll get to giving your presentation life is when you’re invited to pick a theme, just after naming your file.

Excel Web App View tab

And although the Office Web Apps look like their desktop brethren, the Ribbons are stripped of all but the most basic features. Even Excel has only two tabs to choose from, one of those sporting just two buttons. In short, Microsoft has crippled the apps to such an extent it would be pure folly to attempt to create anything other than basic documents using the free web software alone.

Import a document from one of the desktop apps, however, and the Web Apps suddenly spring to life. Documents are immaculately preserved; advanced features such as Pivot Tables, contextual formatting and slide animations aren’t callously jettisoned, as is often the case with Google Docs. Everything from complex formulae to Excel’s new Sparklines are retained and, more impressively, react pretty much instantly if you tweak the figures in your spreadsheet.

What’s more, features start to magically reappear. Click on a photo embedded in an uploaded presentation and a Picture Tools tab suddenly appears on the ribbon. Likewise, fonts that were hitherto missing are made available if you’ve already used them within an uploaded document.


Software subcategory Office software

Operating system support

Operating system Windows Vista supported? yes
Operating system Windows XP supported? yes
Operating system Linux supported? no

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