Don’t Pay for Microsoft Word! 5 Reasons to Use Office Online Instead

Microsoft 365 (formerly Microsoft Office) is the world’s de facto standard for productivity suites, but did you know that most people don’t need to pay for Microsoft Word and other apps? Thanks to Microsoft 365’s free plan, formerly called Office Online, you can access simplified versions of the most popular Office apps for free.




For the majority of people, these stripped-down versions of beloved tools work just fine. Let’s look at some of the reasons to use Word Online, Excel Online, and the other free offerings.

Starting in 2023, Microsoft Office is now known as Microsoft 365, except for legacy versions. Accordingly, the Office Online name is no longer used, in favor of “Microsoft 365 for the web.” We’ve used the historical name of Office Online here since that’s what most people currently know it by.


1. Office Online Is Free

The biggest benefit of Office Online is that you can use it without paying. This is the easiest way to get Microsoft Word for free and legally.

Traditionally, you had to pay upfront for a standalone copy of the latest version of Office (like Office 2021 or Office 2019), which could cost $100 or more. Nowadays, Microsoft wants you to subscribe to a paid Microsoft 365 plan. This is more affordable (starting around $7/month), but the subscription still adds up over time.


With Office Online, you gain access to online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Outlook at no cost. Other productivity apps like Microsoft Teams, Forms, and Sway are included in the list of Office Online offerings too. There are no online versions for Access and Publisher, however.

To try it, sign in to your Microsoft account on Office.com, then visit your Office apps page. Here you’ll see everything that’s available and can jump to any app you like.

Free Office Online Apps

2. Access Documents Anywhere With Cloud Storage

Having your files saved only to one computer can cause problems when you need them on another device. While the option of saving to the cloud is available in modern desktop versions of Office, it’s the default method and even easier to use in Office Online.

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Everyone gets 5GB of free storage in OneDrive with their Microsoft account, which is plenty for storing personal documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. When you work in Office Online, all changes save to your OneDrive account as you go. This means you won’t lose hours of progress if something crashes and you haven’t manually saved for a while. (See our introductory tutorial to OneDrive for more info if you’re interested.)

Office Online Save Document

With the OneDrive app on your phone, you can easily pull up your documents anywhere. And if you need to edit them in a pinch, you can simply sign in to Office Online on any computer.

Even better, Office Online is device-agnostic. You can access it on any device with a web web browser, including Linux and Mac machines. The free Microsoft 365 app for Android and iPhone lets you access Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and more with similar functionality on mobile.


3. Easy Sharing and Collaboration

A lot of people share desktop Office documents with others via email. While this is fine in moderation, it becomes cumbersome to constantly send a document back and forth. With Office Online, you can easily click Share on a file to send a link to anyone. This menu lets you choose if anyone who has the OneDrive link can access it, or only people you specify. You can also choose whether others have editing permissions.

Office Online Share Settings

Office Online also makes collaborating on documents a cinch. Whether you want to edit a large paper with a colleague or work in a spreadsheet with a few friends, doing so only requires both parties to have the document open. While a similar function is available in desktop Office with OneDrive, there are more barriers to entry when using the desktop edition.


4. Office Online Offers a Simplified Workflow

The online versions of Office apps aren’t as full-featured as their desktop counterparts. They don’t include the most powerful tools, such as Word’s advanced formatting and Excel’s detailed graphs or macros.

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While this can make Office Online unsuitable for professional purposes, these apps are still more than capable for personal use.

However, Office Online lacking features aimed at power users can actually be a benefit for some. You might feel overwhelmed by the number of tools on the Ribbon and options to tweak in desktop Office. If that’s the case, perhaps you’ll love the slimmed-down approach of Office Online.

If you have an old computer with a slow HDD and limited RAM, Office Online may work faster for you, too. While the desktop Office apps are fairly bulky, the web app doesn’t put such a strain on your system.

Office Online also provides organizational benefits. Because it keeps all your files in OneDrive, they won’t take up storage space on your machine (if you choose not to sync them).


Storing all Office files in OneDrive also means they aren’t mixed in with everything else on your system. Each app shows recently edited and pinned files of their type (spreadsheets, presentations, etc.) so you can open them from there instead of hunting around a bunch of folders.

Office Online Recent Documents

Finally, using Office Online lets you save documents in the standard Office file formats, such as DOCX and XLSX. Because so many people use Office, this is important for compatibility with others. Many free Microsoft Office alternatives don’t work perfectly with these formats, which scores another point for Office Online.

5. Office Online Receives Feature Updates

If you aren’t interested in buying Microsoft 365, you might consider buying a standalone version of Office, like Office 2021. However, in general, we don’t recommend buying these one-off versions of Office.


The company brings new features to Microsoft 365 first, and every few years, it releases a new standalone version of Office with the latest features from the past few years. But these versions only receive security updates; they don’t get new features as Microsoft develops them.

While Office Online doesn’t receive every new feature added to Microsoft 365, the web versions do get new features more often than the standalone Office releases do. If the web versions do what you need, why not stick with them for free and get new features, rather than locking yourself into a desktop version that doesn’t get any new functionality?

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See Microsoft’s page covering Office for the web updates to see what’s been added recently.


When Microsoft Office Online Isn’t Ideal

We’ve looked at several reasons why Office Online is a great service you should take advantage of, particularly compared to desktop Office. However, it’s not perfect. There are some situations where you’re better off with another solution.

One of the biggest limitations of Office Online is its limited app selection. If you require anything beyond the basics, you’ll need the full version of Office or Microsoft 365. Apps like Access, Visio, and Project don’t have free web versions.

After trying the Office Online apps, you may also find that they lack a feature you need. You can’t use the web versions to run a mail merge or execute macros, for example. Those require traditional Microsoft Office (see some ways to get an Office license for free or pick up a cheap Office license if you need to upgrade).


Another serious limitation of Office Online is right in the name—you need an internet connection to use it. For those who often travel without internet access, Office Online won’t be reliable enough. If that’s the case for you, you can try a free Office alternative; check out our comparison of LibreOffice and OpenOffice to review two top choices.

Do You Have to Pay for Microsoft Word? No!

It’s great news that Microsoft Word and other Office apps are available online for free, as you don’t have to pay for the basic functionality. If you’ve never tried Office Online, you should test it out to see if it works for your needs. You could end up saving some money by using it instead of Microsoft 365.

As you likely know, one of Office Online’s biggest competitors is the Google Docs suite. If Office Online isn’t the right fit, Google Docs might work better for your needs.

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