Updated: September 8, 2014
Are you one of those hardcore critics who had never had any faith, or had lost their faith in the dream that one day, they would be able to migrate to Linux fully and completely, without having to worry about Microsoft Office compatibility ever again? Well, faith no more! Eh, or something.
We had talked about this one hundred billion times. We discussed the Microsoft Office versus LibreOffice usability in real life, not once, but twice. We also talked about how to make the transition easier, for new converts. But we never presented a 100% viable solution for all those who must have Office for critical work. Now, we do that.
For all the bashing we like to direct at Microsoft, and true, they sometimes do create horrible and stupid products, as a company, they are far more loyal and attentive to the their users than most of their competitors out there, including those big companies that people normally perceive as Linux friendly. Microsoft offers real support, years and years of it, you can actually phone call someone. Now and then, they do listen to feedback, and make changes to their software. You even get free software for mobile devices, which is a very neat marketing gimmick. There's free cloud, desktop integration, and now, free online Office.
I am not very fond of any cloud-like solutions. I do not believe in placing your documents online, no matter where and who hosts your data. But if you consider the spectrum of products, starting with Windows 8 family, Office 365, SkyDrive and whatnot, from a business perspective, it does make sense. And if you are not in the mood to pay several hundred dollars for a complete Office suite, especially since it won't really help you on your Linux desktop, then perhaps you ought to keep reading this article.
Enter Microsoft Office Online. It is a 100% usable Office, available through any modern browser interface, on any operating system. There's a free plan, with the basic storage, and you can always pay for more. But it is the zero price tag and cross-platform availability that make this such a lucrative offer for Linux users. Have you often struggled with sharing your documents with Windows users? Feared the glitches in conversion? Here's a way.
Head over to Office Online. Sign in. Use any which email address you want. There's even a neat per-device two-factor authentication, so no one can just log in and use your own cloud thingie. Much like Steam. Very cool. And that's it!
I tested this on Linux Mint, through Firefox. There were no problems whatsoever. The online version of Microsoft Office worked fabulously well. It was fast and smooth. Your documents are saved automatically. You can download copies in their original form or as PDF files. You can share them with other people. You have your OneDrive storage, and this is quite handy, again, provided you don't mind storing files there.
The full suite includes a lot of programs. Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Calendar, Outlook, OneNote, and a few other utilities. Not bad for a totally free plan, especially since it solves your Windows-Linux dilemma.
In particular, I very much liked the email offering. First, you can create mail aliases, as many as you want, and share them with other people. This means you can effectively partition your friend and foe namespace. A business customer may send you emails to esteemed Mr. Dedoimedo, but your buddies would harass you at firstname.lastname@example.org or something. This also means you can establish information patterns, and neatly determine if anyone has given away your email without consent, or sold it to a third-party. Then, if you no longer want to get a barrage of stupid mails, you just delete an alias, but your email remains.
You can always open your files later on in LibreOffice, if you're only using Linux natively, and you do not have an option to use Microsoft Office in any other way. You may lose some of the formatting, but then, it might also work out great. However, most importantly, you can rest assured that if you do have to send your resume, bio, portfolio, an essay, or alike to someone who does not have the time, skill or desire to dabble in bogus error messages, bad layouts, or possible, unexpected conversion mishaps, or you might not be able to afford any mistakes or problems, you will be able to craft your documents online, and use that method to ensure the necessary fidelity and quality. Very cool.
Microsoft Office Online is an excellent compromise for all parties concerned. Microsoft get you hooked into its Borg entity. You, on the other hand, enjoy a free, fully featured office suite with 100% compatibility with pretty much 100% of the world out there. It works on any device, in any browser, and after all, you do get the convenience of cloud storage, which means redundancy and availability anywhere you log in. That has to count.
Linux users, treat this as your last resort, your last measure, your final option. Hate it if you will, but do not disregard it lightly. I warmly recommend you test this functionality. My guess is you will be pleasantly surprised, especially since it means one less obstacle toward a full, uninterrupted Linux experience. And here, you have Microsoft to thank for that. As strange as it sounds, this is an excellent set of tools, and a great opportunity. Squander it not. Now, Microsoft, I often lash out in anger at you, but here, I only have praise. Well done, whatever business or philanthropic reasons there may be.
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