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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

PowerPoint Online might be useful for creating a very simple presentation or sketching one to be fleshed out when you get to a real version of PowerPoint. I wouldn't trust PowerPoint Online for editing an existing presentation — too many bugs, too many crashes. Compared to Word Online and Excel Online, PowerPoint Online seems severely limited.

Microsoft Office compatibility

You would expect that Office Online would handle Office documents properly, wouldn't you? To find out whether it does, I exposed it to six real-world documents. For Word Online, my test included a simple .doc with a weird font and a table with a simple formula; a .docx with tracked changes; and a four-page, 65MB .docx newsletter created by an everyday Word user, packed with text boxes and graphics. For Excel Online, I tried a big but simple .xls and a relatively complex one-page .xlsx with a chart. Finally, I exposed PowerPoint Online to a simple .ppt. All the documents were collected "in the wild."

The simple .doc opened in Word Online without incident. The document looked good, although the Wingdings were replaced with grayed-out fields marked "[Symbol]." The formula didn't work, but it had a gray background, presumably in warning. I made a few changes, then right-clicked on the file in OneDrive and chose Open in Word. I was greeted with a cheerful warning that "[s]ome files can harm your computer. If the file information below looks suspicious, or you do not fully trust the source, do not open the file."

With a sense of fear and trepidation, I opened the file. My Wingdings were back. The field inside the table was grayed out, and it hadn't been recalculated. I right-clicked inside the formula and chose Update Field, and everything was hunky-dory.

The tracked-changes .docx also opened without a hitch. All the tracked changes had been accepted. I made a few changes, waited for Word Online to sync with OneDrive, and then opened the file in Word. Not only had the old tracked changes returned, but the changes I made while in Word Online also were tracked. The document worked perfectly. Score two for the home team.

Figure 3: When Word Online finally opened a trimmed-down version of the newsletter, it looked like this.

The four-page newsletter presented quite a challenge, however. Initially opening the document — into view mode — took more than 10 minutes. Once it was open, trying to edit the document (Edit Document/Edit in Word Online) left me with the error message, "Sorry, Word Online can't open this document because it's too big."

To give Word Online another try, I went into the newsletter and deleted the last two pages — which consisted entirely of photos and text boxes — slimming the 65MB .docx down to 37MB. When it was opened in Word Online — this was only in preview — I came up with the mess you see in Figure 3.

 

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