Could you get by with Office Web Apps?

When we’re advising companies on updating their software, one thing we have to consider is whether all their users need the full power of Microsoft Office, or whether some of them could make do with Office Web Apps, the cut-down online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook that are delivered through a browser.

Could you get by with Office Web Apps?

There are restrictions in Office Web Apps, but these generally only affect the creation of complex documents. If they’re only viewing, printing or performing light editing on documents, these Web Apps can be good enough. Whether they’re suitable for your company depends on your business processes, and how much you’re willing to adapt these processes to match the reduced software ability.

There are restrictions in Office Web Apps, but these generally only affect the creation of complex documents

The cost savings can be quite large: Office 365 Enterprise E3, which includes the full local Office suite, costs £15 per user per month, but the E1 subscription, which only provides Office Web Apps, is only £5 per user per month, a saving of £120 per user per year.

A good way to find out whether Web Apps could work for some of your users is to create a matrix of their requirements. List your staff members down the left-hand column, and the applications they currently use across the top, then put a number between zero and three in every cell to represent the degree of complexity of their usage of each application.

This isn’t so much a matter of how long they use the application for (in hours per day), but how many of the application’s features they use (as a proportion of the available features). Zero means they don’t use the application at all, while three means they use many of the more complex features of the application. Don’t leave any cells blank – if in doubt, ask the user themselves what they do with each application.

Creating Word documents with a table of contents, cross-references, SmartArt, conditional formatting for Excel and so on, would definitely count as a three. These features aren’t available in Office Web Apps. (Web Apps may be able to display these features in documents that were produced in the full application, but you can’t create or edit those features using Web Apps.)

If they use or create any documents containing macros, that’s automatically a three. Use a one to show simple usage – reading and creating emails, creating documents with simple formatting, and reading documents with simple or complex formatting. If their usage of the application is slightly more than simple, but you’re not sure whether it counts as complex, give it a two.

When you’ve completed this matrix, look across each row in turn. Anyone with a three in their row will need the full version of that application. If they only have zeros and ones they can probably make do with Office Web Apps. If someone has a two, they may need the full version of the application. Open one of their more complicated documents in the full application and try to recreate it using Office Web Apps (you can do this for free by using OneDrive or in a trial of Office 365).

Complex features

When someone has a need for complex features in only one or two of the applications, but is a light user of the others, you might consider giving them Office Web Apps plus the full version of the one or two applications they need, rather than the full Office suite. This may be cheaper than buying the full Office suite for that user. If they need complex features for more than two applications, it’s usually cheaper to buy or rent the full suite.

You also need to consider whether adding the complexity of having to manage individual Office applications is worth the saving: there’s a good argument to be made for simplifying your software management down to only two choices, Web Apps or the full Office suite. You can additionally gain a significant price reduction from Microsoft for licensing the same suite of applications across all of your users rather than mixing and matching applications. The Microsoft License Advisor website can help, or speak to your licence supplier or consultant.

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