There are a wealth of free productivity apps available to Chromebook owners. But if you’re missing Microsoft Word for your documents, Excel for your spreadsheets, Powerpoint for Presentations, and OneNote for note-taking: fear not. Chrome users can download Microsoft Office Web Apps, which provides functionality from all these programs. Best of all, it’s completely free.
When you open the app for the first time, you’ll be asked to either sign in with your current Windows Live account, or create one. I couldn’t remember the password for my university Live account after a few unsuccessful guesses, so I created a brand new Live account, which took about 20 seconds.
After signing in, you’re presented with a list of recent documents, folders, and of course, the option to create or import a new Word, Excel, Powerpoint, or Onenote document.
Signing into Microsoft Office Web Apps for Chrome automatically gives you free access to a Windows Live SkyDrive, a cloud service that lets you access them from any computer connected to the internet. You can upload documents, download copies, rename, view properties, change permissions, sort files, and do all the things you’d expect to do in Windows Explorer. The “SkyDrive” comes with 25 GB of free storage for documents, photos, and other files. The files you upload have to be under 50 MB each, which is plenty of headroom for any Office document or high-res still photos — but discourages people from using their 25 gigabytes to store their movie libraries. Let’s keep it work-related, please.
If you have files that you want to view or edit, such as on a thumb drive, you can drag them into the app, which copies them into your SkyDrive. Opening any file in your list quickly allows you to view it in a read-only style, which prevents accidental changes. Clicking the edit button allows you to make changes, as you might expect.
To start, I created a new Microsoft Word document. The workspace looks exactly like the non-web version I’m so used to, but the Chrome interface seems a little more streamlined, less cluttered. I get the nagging feeling there are some more esoteric Word functions messing, but to be quite honest, I can’t tell what they are.
As you can see, you can apply all kinds of formatting changes, and embed other files like photos and videos. I was also able to import, view, and edit other documents from both a USB thumb drive and a separate e-mail account with no problems.
Next, I created a new Excel spreadsheet. I was impressed by the high amount of functionality retained in the Chrome app. I really couldn’t tell a difference between it and Excel for Windows, other than a few cosmetic improvements to the interface.
As I experimented with a quick employee timesheet, I kept trying to push the limits of the web-based app, thinking “surely, this function won’t be in the Chrome version.” But each time, I quickly found what I wanted to do in the intuitive interface. All kinds of cell/table options, formatting options, and calculations are available in the familiar Excel toolbar.
At first I thought the chart and graph functions were missing, but I was proven wrong when I clicked on “Insert.” The options for every kind of Excel chart anyone could ever want to make are here in Microsoft Office Web Apps for Chrome, with all the customization options present in the Microsoft Office edition.
The app version of the popular free-form note taking program, again, provides the exact same experience as the version for Windows. If you currently use it on PC (there is still no version available for Mac, by the way) you’ll have no problem adapting to it on Chrome. If you haven’t used it before, it’s rather handy for keeping track of all kinds of notes, clips, pictures, and so on, though we personally prefer SpringPad as a note-taking app for its greater feature set and customization options.
Microsoft Office Web Apps for Chrome is better than I expected. I anticipated a somewhat clunky interface, but was surprised to find that the web app “feels” (and more importantly “works”) just like Office for Windows. The free 25 GB of online storage is definitely a nice bonus — I actually found SkyDrive to be pretty useful and unobtrusive. I won’t have to worry about forgetting a thumbdrive with documents again, since the app allows you to access and edit your documents from any computer.
The app suite allows you to use Microsoft Office programs from any notebook running Chrome OS. Even if you use one of the many other productivity apps on your Chromebook, remember you have free access to Office programs at any time. After testing the suite for about two hours, we can confidently say that Microsoft did a very good job moving the Windows Office experience to Chrome, and may have even improved it. Even after importing a list of Word documents, text documents, spreadsheets, and photos, the web interface feels organized and lets you get right to business without distractions.
If you need to work with Microsoft Office programs on your Chromebook, We fully recommend this app.