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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

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: 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.

In short, Excel Online covers all the bases — including, notably, Pivot Tables and Pivot Charts — that experienced desktop Excel users are likely to need, although the lack of shapes may be a problem for some workbooks, and the lack of macros may be a showstopper. As with Word Online, if you work with password-protected documents, Excel Online won't even open them.

Preposterous presentations

PowerPoint Online is undoubtedly the weakest of all the Office Online programs. You can edit only in Editing View. There's no equivalent to desktop PowerPoint's Outline Master or Slide Sorter views. Your presenter notes won't help much — PowerPoint Online has no Presenter View either.

Video and audio can't be inserted into a slide using PowerPoint Online, although shapes, text boxes, and SmartArt are supported. If you have a presentation created with the desktop version of PowerPoint, and it has video or sound on a slide, playing a previously embedded clip requires Silverlight. Playing a clip linked from a website requires Flash. (This means they won't work on mobile browsers.) Trying to play a previously embedded video file larger than 50MB or a WAV file larger than 100KB in PowerPoint Online can cause headaches.

You can't paste pictures into slides that have been copied from other presentations or applications. There's no Find/Replace, very few animation effects, and only fade and wipe transitions. You can embed hyperlinks in text, but you can't hyperlink on pictures or shapes. You can insert tables, but you can't edit them. You can't insert charts or equations. And I crashed the bloody thing, over and over again.


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