Review: Office Online is great for Word and Excel, not PowerPoint

Word Online and Excel Online are surprisingly capable, but PowerPoint Online and Office document compatibility are still half-baked

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To edit an existing document in Office Online, you must first upload it to Microsoft's OneDrive, the online storage glue that binds together the Office Online apps. OneDrive works much as Google Drive does, integrating itself into Windows Explorer/File Explorer. (OneDrive integration is built into Windows 8.1. For previous versions of Windows, and for the Mac, you download and install a free app that syncs between your computer and OneDrive.) As with Google Drive, OneDrive lets you set up folders and manage them easily and do all the things you would expect a cloud-based file manager to do: upload, download, rename, copy, delete, and share files.

The only irritating hang-up comes when you want to open a file inside Word Online or PowerPoint Online. To do so, you have to double-click on the file inside OneDrive and then in a separate step choose Edit Document, then Edit in Word Online (see Figure 2) or Edit in PowerPoint Online. For some reason, Excel Online doesn't require this additional step.

If you're using Windows 8 or Office 2013, you've already been nudged to death to use OneDrive as your default data storage location. Microsoft, of course, is trying to get you to move everything to its service -- an irritating, frustrating propensity that InfoWorld's J. Peter Bruzzese talked about last week. If you want to use Office Online with Dropbox or Box, with your non-OneDrive corporate servers, or even with your own hard drive, you're in for a very difficult time.

Printing in the Office Online apps is easy but not nearly as powerful as in Google Docs. In an Office Online app, choose File > ;Print, and the app generates a PDF. Then, with a click, you can open the generated PDF in your browser's PDF viewer and use the browser to print it. Not elegant, but it works.

Microsoft was late to the collaboration game, incorporating color-coded cursor indicators for each collaborator and real-time updates only this past November. For typical online collaboration, Office Online, Google Drive, and Apple iWork are strikingly similar.

Worthy word processing
Microsoft Word Online has the most complete feature set of the three online word processors. It offers extensive font formatting, a significant selection of predefined paragraph styles, and extensive manual paragraph-formatting options. There's excellent support for tables, including easy styles, color, and shading. Hyperlinks are easy. Headers, footers, page numbers, and footnotes all work as expected.

That said, you won't mistake Word Online for its desktop counterpart -- plenty is missing. Existing styles can't be changed inside Word Online. There's no support for mathematical functions in tables. No text boxes or shapes are available. If you open a document containing text boxes, shapes, SmartArt, and the like, you can see the objects, but you can't move them, resize them, or edit the contents. You can scale pictures, but you can't drag and drop them, crop them, or attach captions to them. Macros don't work in Word Online. Linked and embedded pictures and ActiveX controls appear as placeholders, but you can't do anything with them except delete them.

Autocorrect -- changing "adn" to "and," for example -- happens whether you want it or not, although you can undo individual changes with Ctrl+Z. You can see tracked changes inside a document that's created with a different version of Word, but you can't track changes inside Word Online itself, nor can you accept or reject changes.

Figure 1: Microsoft Office Online ribbon
Figure 1: Although Word Online has fewer menu items than Word 2013, it clearly shows its allegiance to the Ribbon faithful.
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