Look Out Google Docs: Microsoft Just Got Real With Office Online

This story originally written by Nancy Gohring at CITEworld. Sign up for our free newsletter here.

Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) Office Online services finally have a real chance at winning over even serious Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) Docs users.

This morning Microsoft made a couple of changes to its online services. On the face of it, they're minor -- a name change and a new landing page. But they could be just enough to push the Office services into the mainstream.

Microsoft had been calling the services Office Web Apps. According to a blog post this morning, users were confused by the name, wondering if the word "App" meant they had to install software. So Microsoft is now calling the product suite Office Online.

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The company also revamped Office.com so that visitors can click on any of the Office products and launch the online version from the main page. That change is meant to address the fact that lots of people don't know there is an online version of Office.

In fact, the blog post notes that Microsoft knows "that many of the one billion Office users haven't tried it yet."

The curious thing about Office Online is that Microsoft is targeting it at paying users of Office, but the service is incredibly useful for people who don't own Office software or subscribe to Office 365. Since the introduction of Google Docs, Google has been the go-to option for people who don't want to buy Office.

Initially, Google Docs was pretty unbearable to use. But it was still popular because if you didn't want to pay for Office or you needed to share documents online, it was a free option.

Google Docs' usability has improved quite a lot over the years. Still, it has always mimicked Office and now feels a step behind.

Office Online, though, looks just like the full Office products. Plus, Office Online integrates with the Office applications. That means users can easily switch between the online version and the product version, with changes synched between the two. With Google Docs that kind of switching gets complicated because you have to download a document to work with it in Word. Any changes you make once it's downloaded aren't saved back to the cloud version.

Microsoft faces one big hurdle though if it hopes to win over long time Google Docs users because those users will have stored lots of files with Google. Switching to Office Online and OneDrive might not be worth the hassle.

But if today's changes to Office Online help solve the awareness problem that the products have faced, Microsoft has a good chance of winning over at least some Google Docs users -- both those that use Google Docs because they don't want to pay for Office and those who use Google Docs as an online version when they are away from their own computers -- as well as Office users who have never tried any online document service.

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