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

Woody Leonhard | May 8, 2014
Word Online and Excel Online are surprisingly capable, but PowerPoint Online and Office document compatibility are still half-baked

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

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 "" 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 spreadsheetsMicrosoft's Excel Online borrows all the desktop Excel cell-formatting and -calculation capabilities you would expect, including almost allthe 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!).


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