Update: This post now includes a statement from a Google spokesperson which can be viewed at the end of the post.
At the end of June, it was reported that Microsoft was considering moving Office users from Chromebooks to the web. Some Chromebook users were seeing in-app messages suggesting this. At the time, I dismissed these reports because not all Chromebook users in Office Android apps saw this type of messaging. Turns out I was wrong. Microsoft is dropping Chromebook support for Office Android apps next month.
I discovered this after an email conversation with Microsoft’s PR department yesterday. I had reached out because a reader of the site pinged me on Twitter, saying they just saw the message that started popping up for some Chromebook users.
Say goodbye to Chromebook support for Office Android apps
I received a response to my request last night, with a Microsoft spokesperson confirming the company’s plans: a transition will begin next month on Chromebook support for Office Android apps. Instead of Android, Office on the web will be the way to use Microsoft’s productivity suite on a Chromebook:
“In an effort to provide the most optimized experience for Chrome OS / Chromebook customers, Microsoft applications (Office and Outlook) will move to web experiences (Office.com and Outlook.com) on September 18, 2021. This transition brings Chrome OS / Chromebook customers get access to additional and premium features. Customers will need to sign in with their personal Microsoft account or an account associated with their Microsoft 365 subscription. More information is available here. “
To clarify further, sources tell me that Office on Android is not going to go away.
Of course, that makes sense, given the number of Android phones out there, each of which is a potential revenue stream for Microsoft 365; the new branding for Office 365 and additional applications. And while Android users can use the web for Microsoft’s Office apps, just like Chromebook users, apps are best optimized for phone screen sizes.
Chromebooks typically have 11.6- to 17-inch screens (yes, there’s a 17-inch Chromebook now), where responsive and scalable web apps probably make more sense from a support perspective. Deciding to make this transition means Microsoft doesn’t have to spend the time and effort optimizing small-screen Android productivity apps for larger screens on Chromebooks.
Hello Office web applications. What does it mean?
At this point, I’m sure most Chromebook owners reading this aren’t happy with it. And I can understand that. Some people just prefer native apps to web solutions. One of the main reasons is that the web equivalent of an app is not always equivalent to that of a native app. There may be missing features, for example, or the inability to use the web application offline.
I have no official Microsoft comment to share on this, but I’ve done some limited research myself. I used my own Chromebook that had the Android version of Office installed and also accessed Office365.com in my browser.
Instead of testing like-for-like comparisons of each feature, I specifically looked to use both solutions offline. I did this mainly because I think it will be the most immediate problem, real or perceived, with Chromebooks.
Unsurprisingly, I was able to use Office for Android on my Chromebook offline. However, even though Microsoft started offering PWAs, or Progressive Web Apps, for its Office apps in 2019, I encountered issues with the web version.
For one thing, I didn’t see a way to install the PWA at first, which usually shows up in Chrome browser as an option if a PWA is available. Update: Update: Thanks to a commenter suggesting that I had already installed the PWA, I removed it and retested it. The PWA installation process was typical for a Chromebook. And yet, it seems that a PWA is available. I opened Developer Tools in Chrome and found the manifest file required by PWA suggesting this:
Browsing through the manifest file, I see the criteria required for installing PWA. So I checked the browser menu and found an “Open in Office”
option; I would have expected an “Install” option like most other PWAs on my Chromebook. By choosing “Open in Office”, the service appeared in its own application-like window just like any other PWA.
Current experience is not ideal for Chromebook users
At this point, I had the PWA app on my Chromebook and was able to pin the Office app icon to my system tray.
Note that this is still a messy implementation. I can perfectly create a new document in the PWA. Accessing an existing document opens it in the browser, i.e. outside the PWA.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t work at all on an offline Chromebook. At least not to this day. Clicking on my new Office icon generates an error page because currently the PWA is trying to reach Microsoft’s servers. Will that change by the time of the September 18 transition? I hope so, but I have no news to share on this front at the moment.
This is because on the support page link provided in Microsoft’s statement, it is clearly stated that in order to use the Office apps on your Chromebook, you need to go to the Office web page. You must be online to navigate there.
I have however found a method that provides basic offline access.
Online and using Office on the web, I saved a local copy of a Word document. This appeared in the Files app on my Chromebook, as expected.
And by default, Google installs a Chrome extension on every Chromebook called Office Edition for Docs, Sheets, and Slides. You might not see it in your extensions list, but it’s there. It works offline so you can view or edit Office documents locally in your browser.
No, it’s not the same as an Office Progressive Web App. It’s not even close, in fact.
Essentially, you’ll be using Google Docs to make basic edits to the Office files you’ve uploaded. This means that you won’t have much of the functionality that Office provides.
But that’s an option until Microsoft (hopefully) chooses to make its Office PWA a first-class citizen on Chromebooks. Perhaps we will hear about it officially by the time of the transition.
By the way: If you want a fully native productivity suite that runs locally on your Chromebook, there are other options. I wrote a documentation on how to install LibreOffice in Linux on your Chromebook here. It’s not as painful as it sounds and LibreOffice is quite comparable to Microsoft’s Office suite.
Update: I received the following statement on August 26, 2021 at noon ET from a Google spokesperson:
“We’re excited to see Microsoft providing Chrome OS users with a more optimized experience and embracing the open web. People love Chrome OS because it provides a fast, secure, and easy computing experience and helps them stay connected while they work, study, and play. “
Updated at 8:10 am ET, reflecting the correct PWA installation process.
Updated at 12 noon ET on August 26, 2021 to include an official statement from Google.