Microsoft is Testing Office PWAs in Windows 10

Posted on October 15, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud, Microsoft 365, Office, Windows 10 with 38 Comments

Late last year, Microsoft transitioned its core, web-based Office applications to Progressive Web Apps (PWAs). Now it’s taking the next step.

A recent report in WindowsLatest, which I discovered via Mary Jo Foley, claims that Microsoft is testing the automatic installation of its Office PWAs in Windows 10 “without user permission.” I’m not sure if this is really happening, but as I’m getting ready to start a series of articles about using only web apps, I was curious to see whether I could replicate this and what it looks like.

And while it’s not ideal, it’s better than it seems at first. Basically, what you need to do is navigate to Office.com with Microsoft Edge and sign-in with your Microsoft account. When you do, you’ll see a little Install (“+”) button in the address bar, indicating that the site is a PWA and that you can install it locally.

What’s interesting that the site makes it look like the web versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook(.com) can be installed separately; just navigate to one of those web apps and you’ll see that same Install button.

But that’s not how it works: You can’t install just the web version of Word, for example. Instead, when you click Install anywhere on Office.com, you’ll find that five PWAs have been installed: Office.com, plus Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook(.com).

The icon for Office(.com) looks normal. But the icons for the other web apps are tiny and look weird in the Start menu and taskbar. Hopefully they fix this.

As to the bit about Microsoft installing these web apps without user permission, this appears to be happening only on some PCs that are enrolled in the Windows Insider Program, so this doesn’t seem to be a big issue. But the good news is that they’re easily uninstalled: You can do this via Microsoft Edge (navigate to edge://apps/), in the Programs and Features control panel, or by right-clicking them in the Start menu.

I’ll be looking at these web apps in more detail soon.

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Comments (44)

44 responses to “Microsoft is Testing Office PWAs in Windows 10”

  1. beckoningeagle

    If they can somehow make Plugins from accounting applications like CCh from Wolter Skluer or the apps from Thomson Reuters and others, this would be a god-sent for me and my users.

  2. anoldamigauser

    I have been testing the PWA version of the Office Apps on an old Asus Tablet, not on an insider build, with an MSA not tied to my Microsoft 365 Home subscription. There are still some gaps, in that some of the apps work within the Office PWA, but others do not. Outlook is its own PWA, but launching it from Office opens it in the browser. Calendar, OneDrive and OneNote also launch in the browser, otherwise, the apps all open within the Office PWA, which just has a nice feel. Of course, the PWA versions are not full featured, but for many people they are enough. There are a lot of reasons this makes sense for Microsoft, playing to their mantra of being where their users are.

    For those who create a Microsoft Account to log in to their PC, it will provide a better experience for those who do not have a Microsoft 365 account. It is not the same as the bundled versions of Office that used to come with every PC in the day, but it is a good way to get these applications out in front of people to remind them that they do not need to find alternatives.

    For Microsoft 365 Business Basic or Education A1 accounts, it will provide a more consistent interface, that will work on lower end PCs and Chromebooks, as well as iOS devices in a roundabout sort of way.

    They can, potentially, replace the mobile apps with the PWAs, if they add some functionality, bypassing the Apple or Google Play stores, saving the 30% vig on purchases. It also means they no longer have to use the Google APIs, which collect data for Google while providing no benefit to Microsoft or the user.



  3. tonchek

    Is this done using Blazor?

  4. joshsmith81

    I can confirm this. After reading the article, I verified that the web apps are now in my Recently Added apps in the start menu. I can also confirm that on first run, you still get the prompt at the top to install the web app... ?

  5. simard57

    Does this only work for insiders? I did not see the + sign on edge on laptop, phone or ipad.

    Can someone post a picture of what I should look for?

    • CobolPgmr

      In reply to Simard57:

      It showed up on my PC and I'm not an insider

    • anoldamigauser

      In reply to Simard57:

      If you are using Chrome or Chredge, you can go to Office.com, and wait for the (+) to appear, then add it as a Web App. It is independent of the insider builds, they are just testing deployment of it on installation there. It is probably best to do it on a machine without the desktop apps installed.

      It is a bit inconsistent in how it works at the moment. Outlook (which can also be installed as a web app), OneNote, and OneDrive, all open in a browser from the Office web app, whereas the other applications open in the web app window. In that sense, it would probably be easier for normal people to use it from the browser, as it just opens new tabs there. For Word and Excel though, it is a nice interface to open documents. I have not tried running multiple instances.

  6. Paul Tarnowski

    Annoyingly I've found that files on Sharepoint opened in the browser don't handle formatting very well. And data queries outside of Power BI? Forget it.

  7. djncanada

    what happens if you have multiple M365 accounts, do you install a PWA for each account?

  8. waethorn

    This is standard on new Windows 10 2004 installs now.

  9. BBoileau

    I do like the feel and speed of PWA as it doesn't carry the burden of the bloat associated with desktop apps. I see the PWA version working in most use cases. Where the higher functions of the desktop app are required and called upon in the PWA, the desktop app could open with file intact to perform the function. If the modified file retained the functionality when re-opened as a PWA and only required desktop to re-code or change function, then in normal use cases the PWA could become the default.

  10. sandervanhuizen

    I think it doesn't really matter to me. But I have a Microsoft 365 subscription and I also have office installed, so my opinion is that this shouldn't happen if you have office installed.

  11. dan1986ist

    Speaking of the Office PWAs, could Microsoft make them fully-featured for those with Microsoft 365 subs, and have basic editing for those with just a MSA, and don't Microsoft 365?

  12. Usman

    So I ran into this yesterday. I have Office 365 Personal installed, and I have the desktop applications installed as well. The start menu tiles launch the PWA even though they previously would have launched the desktop apps that were installed.


    I'm not fussed by either, since I always access files from OneDrive. However I can see this being a nuisance for people that expect the full desktop apps.

  13. spacecamel

    I wonder what this means for the future of the traditional desktop apps. If you have PWAs (or webapps) that cover many of the platforms , why not just go with the PWA and drop individual apps?

    • SvenJ

      In reply to spacecamel: Because it's hard to write proprietary extensions, VB code, etc for PWAs?


      • spacecamel

        In reply to SvenJ:

        Google drive seems to have extensions so I think it would be possible. Also very few people use extensions with office.

        • hrlngrv

          In reply to spacecamel:

          very few people use extensions with office

          Probably correct.

          Focusing on Excel, I figure fewer than 5% who have Office on their work PCs use PowerQuery, and fewer than 2% write their own VBA macros and user-defined functions.

          OTOH, those who do use Excel for parts of statistical analysis or stochastic financial modeling do tend to use Excel add-ins. FWIW, the only way to use regular expressions in Windows Excel remains using Windows Script Host's scrrun.dll, as it's been since Office 97 and Windows NT4.

          • techsavvy

            In reply to hrlngrv:people that don't write them use them. We have employees create excel with VBA and distribute for use by entire sales department. I am sure non of this works with PWA. And on switching to Google ... all of the existing source code would need to be rewritten


          • wright_is

            In reply to hrlngrv:

            There is also the other side, Office being an add-in to other programs.

            Our ERP system automatically generates reports in Excel by opening an Excel instance and pushing the data into a sheet, then performing formatting etc. on the results, adding formulas etc. It also creates Word documents dynamically on the fly using the same method.

            That is something you can't do with a web-app. You need the OLE integration to be able to do that.

            Likewise, when someone calls us, our telephone software automatically calls up the relevant contact out of Outlook and displays it on the screen.

            • hrlngrv

              In reply to wright_is:

              My level of sympathy is very low with regard to using Excel to generate reports. Report generation ain't difficult even with box and line drawing using any relatively modern scripting language. That your ERP system relies on Excel to do so is problematic.

              FWIW, what you mean is your ERP system can't use web apps, and there isn't a chance in Hell the ISV licensing it to you has any interest in expending any of its resources changing the workflow.

              We've had a pilot trying to integrate phones with SalesForce, but not enough joy so far.

              • wright_is

                In reply to hrlngrv:

                If you have a web page, or PDF (it does produce fixed reports with Crystal Reports or List and Labels as PDF), you can't perform analyses on it, you can't add your own sums or filters, only what the ERP has decided should be available.

    • wright_is

      In reply to spacecamel:

      Because it will take years before those web-apps reach feature parity (if ever) and a lot of businesses and power users rely on those features for their workflows.

      It is like asking why you would want to keep buying Ford F150s, when a Smart 4two is available? If you want to do any serious transporting, you won't use a Smart 4two. If you just need to pop to the newsagent to get the Sunday paper and a packet of fags, the Smart 4two is fine.

      Also, local file access. 100% of our files are on local file servers, we have Microsoft 365, but OneDrive and SharePoint Online are disabled and all files, including OneNotes are stored on local network shares - company and industry policy reasons.

      Edit: Just went to look on my account, no plus button, then I remembered, the Web Apps are disabled in our Microsoft 365 environment.

  14. RonV42

    Desktop apps vs. the PWA's have a gap in capabilities when it comes to plugin's, data connectors, and other functions. I can see this would meet the needs of a large majority of the "casual" use cases but the deep business users will still use traditional apps.

    • Paul Thurrott

      I suspect these apps would meet most needs, period.
      • hrlngrv

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        If by most needs, you mean most non-work needs, probably. Just as Zoho Office or LibreOffice would. If you meant most work needs, it'd be obvious you didn't use Excel or Access for work.

      • techsavvy

        In reply to paul-thurrott:The others are correct. I build financial data models. Any casual work user that needs to access the data via Excel must use desktop Excel on a Windows PC. You can't even use desktop office on a Mac.
        You can access the data using a web browser if the company installs OOS, Office Online Server. I have asked IT to install this. In theory my users will be able to use apps in their browser. I have distributed reports before using Excel Services so it can be done via browser on any platform

        If you are using an excel plug-in you are stuck. A big enterprise example would be plug-ins needed to access SAP/BW. I don't think you can use OOS and access SAP directly in Excel but indirect access through Microsoft back-end may work.


  15. csteinblock

    Is not installing something without user permission kind of the definition of malware? Even installing 5 when the user asks for 1 seems on the edge of it?

  16. red.radar

    I am interested in these web app versions of office. I have a few machines that run Linux and it would be nice to have a better experience on them. I doubt that is the primary motivation for this development but it would be a pleasant side effect if PWA Work cross platform.

  17. curtisspendlove

    I’ve been pretty happy with the Online Office suite for quite a while. While having the traditional binaries installed is still pretty useful, I’d guess the web apps are enough for most people.

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