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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In the latest version of Word Online, Find and Replace both work quite well, with only a few minor differences with desktop Word. (For example, searching for "^p" in desktop Word will match a paragraph mark, but it won't in Word Online.) Word Online shows red squiggly underlines for misspelled words but doesn't (yet) have the ability to do grammar checking. There's good footnote and endnote support. Document margins can be set easily. Thankfully, Word Online doesn't automatically convert website URLs or email addresses to hotlinks, so you can type "www.infoworld.com" without fear of Word automatically making it blue and underlined. Nor does Word Online automatically superscript ordinals -- for example, changing "1st" to "1st." Someone in Redmond is listening.

Word Online doesn't have the desktop edition's Navigation pane, so working with large documents is a pain. There are no rulers, horizontal or vertical. You can't create bookmarks or cross references, set up columns, or set global hyphenation rules. There's no autocreation of tables of contents, no envelope generation, and no mail merge. Word Online doesn't have a zoom, nor does it display multiple pages or allow you to view two parts of a document at the same time (split). Presumably, the browser should do some of that for you.

Word Online will open PDF files -- and will convert a PDF to .docx with varying degrees of success -- but to create a PDF file, you have to "print" your document and retrieve it from OneDrive. When you edit a .doc file in Word Online, it's converted to .docx before editing begins.

Surprisingly, Word Online won't open password-protected documents, but Apple's Pages for iCloud will.

If you're accustomed to working with Word 2013, Word Online will make you feel right at home. Putting together a fancy document can be challenging. The inability to create styles, switch on the Navigation pane, review tracked changes, or add items to the spelling dictionary may drive you up a wall. The lack of macros may be a showstopper for some of you. But, for most everyday use, Word Online will suffice. And the .docx files generated by Word Online come through with nary a hiccup in the desktop versions of Word.

Strong spreadsheets
Microsoft's Excel Online borrows all the desktop Excel cell-formatting and -calculation capabilities you would expect, including almost all the functions you know and love, although the results of some functions may be slightly different in Excel Online (for example, CHAR for nonprinting characters in Excel Online returns a blank; INFO in Excel gives the current path, but in Excel Online it returns #VALUE!).

Excel Online includes the ability to merge cells, for text to spill over into adjacent cells, and to put borders around cells. There's Ctrl+drag to autofill. There's no conditional formatting, no paste transpose. But you do get Freeze Panes, autocomplete (when you type part of a cell value that's appeared before), hyperlinks, sparklines, and drop-down data-entry lists. Tables come through fine, too, with column headers, total rows, and the like.

With a few complex exceptions, charts in Excel Online match those in the desktop version, as do PivotTables and PivotCharts. Excel Online won't update external references -- that is, cell references to other worksheets stored in OneDrive. Any ActiveX controls, old-fashioned macros, XML smart tags, or shapes inserted using other versions of Excel will prevent you from opening the workbook in Excel Online.

Excel Online won't open workbooks that are password-protected, although it will show protected worksheets. When you open an .xls file, it's automatically converted to .xlsx.

Figure 2: Microsoft Office Online Open in Word Online
Figure 2: Opening a Word document for editing in Word Online is a two-step process. First you open the doc in Word Online -- that puts it in viewing mode -- then you choose Edit Document > Edit in Word Online.
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