Microsoft beefs up Office Online

The browser-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote are being updated to narrow the features gap with Office 365

Microsoft is updating its Web-based Office Online suite, narrowing the features gap with the main Office 365 and Office 2013 suites installed on users' devices.

"We know you want features that allow you to move as seamlessly as possible between Office Online and the desktop," wrote Kaberi Chowdhury, an Office Online technical product manager, in a blog post Monday.

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Improvements to Excel Online include the ability to insert new comments, edit and delete existing comments, and properly open and edit spreadsheets that contain Visual Basic for Applications code.

Meanwhile, Word Online has a new "pane" where users can see all comments in a document, and reply to them or mark them as completed. It also has a refined lists feature that is better able to recognize whether users are continuing a list or starting one. In addition, footnotes and endnotes can now be added more conveniently inline.

PowerPoint Online has a revamped text editor that offers a layout view that more closely resembles the look of finished slides, according to Microsoft. It also has improved performance and video functionality, including the ability to play back embedded YouTube videos.

For users of OneNote Online, Microsoft is now adding the ability to print out the notes they've created with the application.

Microsoft is also making Word Online, PowerPoint Online, and OneNote Online available via Google's Chrome Web Store so that Chrome browser users can add them to their Chrome App launcher. Excel Online will be added later.

The improvements in Office Online will be rolled out to users this week, starting Monday.

Office Online, which used to be called Office Web Apps, competes directly against Google Docs and other browser-based office productivity suites. It's meant to offer users a free, lightweight, Web-based version of these four applications if they don't have the desktop editions on the device they're using at that moment.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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