Microsoft and Google are locked in battle over free-for-personal-use productivity applications. Each is fighting for your attention.
At this time, there’s no one best online suite; both are quite capable and both have some important limitations.
The state of the art in online productivity
Microsoft, Google, and Apple all offer online productivity suites that are free for personal use. And unlike past “free” suites (yes, I mean you, Microsoft Works and MS Office Web Apps!), these latest online suites are all surprisingly capable — and getting better almost weekly. In thisdiscussion, I compare Office Online and Google Apps: two suites experienced Windows and Office users are most likely to use. Apple’s iWork for iCloud I’ll save for another day. It represents an elegant evolution of the Office genre, but there’s a significant learning curve for dyed-in-the-wool Office “Officionados.”
In short, Office Online and Google Apps are both so good you might not need to buy a standalone version of Office or subscribe to Office 365. Really! Microsoft and Google have their own reasons for dangling freebies at Windows users — more about that later. But whatever their motivations, using online suites could mean more money in your pocket.
But before I get into the details, let’s clarify some confusing terminology.
Four months ago, “Office Web Apps” was a backwater website that seemed to be a weak adjunct to the desktop version of Office. Then Microsoft launched Office Online and kicked the old website into the bit bucket.
For this article, I’ll review Word Online, Excel Online, and PowerPoint Online — the most popular parts of the various Office Online components (see Figure 1).