Microsoft Is Going to Make it Difficult for Chromebook Owners to Use Word Offline

Microsoft Is Going to Make it Difficult for Chromebook Owners to Use Word Offline
Microsoft will make it harder for Chromebook users to work with offline Office documents. (Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo)

Microsoft plans to end support for its Android-based Office apps for Chrome OS users. Beginning Sept. 18, Chromebooks that rely on the Android versions of Office, Outlook, OneNote, and OneDrive will need to migrate over to the web to access files and folders.

About Chromebooks confirmed the upcoming change with Microsoft after a reader pointed out messaging in an Office app urging them to move to the web. A Microsoft support page also suggests users access Microsoft 365 through the available web apps. The support page adds that the Android versions of Office, Outlook, OneNote, and OneDrive are not currently supported on a Chromebook.

Microsoft’s move to the web is apparently an attempt to provide an “optimised experience” for Chrome OS users.

“This transition brings Chrome OS/Chromebook customers access to additional and premium features,” a Microsoft spokesperson told About Chromebooks.

The Office web experience is a Progressive Web App, or PWA, so it’s full-featured, not to mention it will scale better on larger screens (like on a 17-inch Acer Chromebook 317, for instance).

But while it sounds pretty cut-and-dry, once that transition happens, it will become more challenging to edit and source cloud-based documents when the Chromebook is offline. That negates the whole point of Chrome OS, which is a cloud-based operating system that lets you work on documents without an internet connection. But not if the PWAs for Microsoft Office doesn’t offer an offline mode.

On the flip side, being forced to use Microsoft’s web-based apps cuts out any clunky interactions you might have had using the Android apps on Chrome OS. Android apps don’t always translate well to the Chromebook’s big screen. But it does take away the ability to add a “native” Microsoft app to Chrome OS, which Chromebook users tend to prefer.

The move comes as the company is launching its revamped Windows 11 in the fall, which adopts a more touch-friendly user interface. Considering Windows 11 will have native Android app compatibility (albeit through Amazon’s Appstore), it’s a little strange that Microsoft is moving away from these specific Android apps.

About Chromebooks reminded me there is an Office Editing extension from Google that lets you download Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files to edit with Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides. It enables you to edit those files in Google Docs without the internet, and it stays dormant in the background until it senses an active connection, when it then uploads your changes. There are also open-source alternatives to opening and editing Office files, namely the Linux version of LibreOffice, a relatively easy install on the Chromebook if you’re not intimidated by Linux apps.

Of course, the easier solution would be to not have to find an alternative at all. Hopefully Microsoft addresses those concerns before the official cut-off date.