Google Docs vs Microsoft Word Online

How do the top two online office productivity apps fare against each other? Read on to find out...

Where once word processing was the domain of desktop software that had to be installed from a CD-ROM, thanks to the cloud it has become a productivity tool than can be used pretty much anywhere with an internet connection and on all manner of devices.

Arguably two top dogs of cloud-powered word processing are Google Docs and Microsoft Word Online. The former forms part of the search giant's G-Suite of cloud-powered app, which includes Google Drive and Gmail, while the latter is part of Redmond's Office Online suite.

Both fine word processors in their own right, backed up by automatic saving, machine learning catabolites, and integrations with other apps and services.

And both offer free as well as subscription-based tiers of service, with the latter expanding their capabilities, storage capacity and features.

However, this makes choosing between opting for one word processors over the other a tricky proposition, particularly as both have found their way into major organisations and government departments thereby earning their stripes.

To help you make a decision which one you might find most suitable for either your own work or winder organisation, we have broken down and compared the main features and attributes of Word Online and Google Docs.

Microsoft Word Online

Word Online is a free web-based version of Microsoft’s word processor package. While comprehensive, the online version is a stripped-down version of the Word application you get on Windows. 

It comes as part of the Office Online suite (there are also versions of Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook, to name a few). It works with Microsoft’s default document formats, but there will be some complex documents that won’t work with this online version. But as far as everyday document creation and editing are concerned, this won’t be too much of a problem.

There are a number of features that have appeared first in Word Online before it has reached its offline counterpart. The Tell Me search function is one such feature; this helps the user find a feature they need for a particular task. Word Online also offers collaborative document creation and editing so other users can work on the same document at the same time (both of these features now form part of Word 2016.

You need a Microsoft account to access Word Online and this means that you can also automatically save documents to OneDrive. (If you use Word Online as part of Office 365, documents are saved to the lamentable OneDrive for Business).

One feature that Microsoft has introduced to its online app is Smart Lookup. When you right-click on a word, a number of options appear in a pane on the right-hand side. A selected word can be defined, a Wikipedia entry brought up, or a web search, courtesy of Bing. Text from the pane can be copied and pasted into the main document. 

Word Online works pretty well in all browsers. We couldn’t find any favourable treatment given to Internet Explorer or Edge. In fact, if you use Chrome, Microsoft has an extension for Office that allows you to create documents or access them from your OneDrive account without having to login each time. This makes this part of the process of document creation and editing much more productive. 

As we said earlier, there are a few features missing from the online version but one thing that has managed to make the transition from offline to online is Format Painter. This feature can quickly copy formatting from one part of a document to another. Choose the part you like the look of, click Format Painter, and then click the text or graphic you want to change to look the same.

What you can’t get with Word Online that you can with Word 2016 are the References and Mailings ribbons. References allows you to create things such as a table of contents or add citations, and so on. We think this shouldn’t be too hard to add to an online version of Word, but missing it is at the time of writing. Mailings would be a bit trickier as this allows you to print envelopes and labels so we can see the problem there if a printer is not handily nearby whatever device you are working on.

When working in Word Online, saving can mean defaulting to OneDrive. Other cloud storage services, such as Box do offer the ability to create documents and edit them using Word Online, but you have to start from there rather than in Word Online and save from there instead. 

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