For as long as I can remember, Microsoft has pushed a “better together” strategy where its users see big benefits from using two or more of its products and services together. This week’s initial release of the Office Online extension for Microsoft Edge offers such a tie-up, but from what I can see, it’s only a minor convenience.
What I was hoping for, I guess, was true offline capabilities, the ability to create and edit Office documents on the go. But of course that functionality is supplied by Microsoft’s free Office Mobile apps, and while they do require individual installs, they’re certainly convenient enough, and easier to use with locally-stored documents. Point being, Office Online remains online. And that makes sense.
So the Office Online extension that debuted in last night’s release of Windows 10 Insider Preview build 14366 for PCs—and requires that or a newer build of Windows 10—is advertised as a convenience. Or, as Microsoft puts it, “the quickest way to view, edit, create Office files in Microsoft Edge.” It lets you “use Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Sway Online without needing Office installed” and “access your recent files, thanks to integration with OneDrive and OneDrive for Business.”
This is all true. But I’m not sure it’s particularly efficient.
After OKing the install via that curious “Turn it on” dialog in Edge, you’re prompted to choose between OneDrive and OneDrive for Business, which is the first issue. Yes, you can “access your recent files, thanks to integration with OneDrive and OneDrive for Business,” as Microsoft asserts. But you have to choose between OneDrive and OneDrive for Business: You can’t jump between both as you can with the OneDrive desktop sync client in Windows 10 or with any OneDrive mobile app on any supported platform.
Once you choose—I went with consumer OneDrive—you’ll see that the Office Online extension, which is much more efficiently used by moving its icon next to the Edge toolbar, offers four main areas of exploration:
Recent documents. The default view shows the last 7 Office Online documents you accessed and provides a “View more” link that opens the Recent documents view in OneDrive in the browser.
New. This slides open a menu with Word Online, Excel Online, PowerPoint Online, OneNote Online, and Sway options. Choosing Word Online, I see that the New Document experience for Word Online opens up in the browser, letting me choose between various document templates and recent documents, much as in the desktop and mobile versions of Word.
Open. This item has two options: From OneDrive, which predictably opens a browser tab displaying the Files view in OneDrive, and Browse, which opens a Windows 10 Open File dialog. That’s interesting because you can use this to open a locally-saved document, including one not found in OneDrive, in an Office Online web app.
Account. This simple display shows you which account you’re using and lets you sign out. There is no option to add an account, so you can only use one account (again, OneDrive or OneDrive for Business) at a time.
Settings. Even more lacking than the Accounts setting, here you can choose to send feedback to Microsoft. And that’s it.
One might argue that the Office Online extension could be useful for public or shared computers, but those are the configurations where you’re least likely to see this extension installed. And who would go to the effort anyway? If you need to use such a PC to access your OneDrive-based documents, just sign-in on the web and access them normally.
Likewise, Office 365 Home or Personal subscribers will want to install the Office 2016 desktop applications or the Office Mobile apps, which provide more and better functionality than the web apps.
So the Office Online extension really only has one audience: Those with OneDrive accounts who do not have an Office 365 subscription (or have separately purchased Office desktop applications). And even then, I question whether this extension is any more convenient than just navigating to OneDrive in your browser.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with this extension per se. But it’s not really a better way to do anything. It’s just another way to do things. And I’m not sure that solves a real-world problem. Maybe I’m missing something; it wouldn’t be the first time. But my initial reaction to this is that it’s not as necessary as, say, the LastPass and AdBlock extensions.