Apps for Chromebooks are all browser based. Office apps for Chromebooks use the Chrome browser and cloud storage to work with documents. Both Google and Microsoft have web apps for Chromebooks that are equivalent to Microsoft Office’s Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Like all Chromebook apps, they make use of Google Drive and Skydrive cloud storage.
Top Productivity Apps for Chromebooks
Google Apps provides a decent set of browser-based office apps for Chromebooks. The apps are simple, easy to learn and have an uncluttered interface. The simplicity of the Google Apps interface is its strong point. You get all the functionality you need without any of the extra fluff. But it also has advanced functions.
If you work with Microsoft Office users you might not be able to switch to their file formats so easily. Or maybe you’ve grown accustomed to Office’s ribbon interface and don’t want to switch. Microsoft offers a full set of office apps for Chromebooks that are browser based too.
Alternatively, you can use Linux based office apps like OpenOffice and LibreOffice by signing up to rollApp for free.
Microsoft Office Apps for Chromebooks
Microsoft offers stepped down versions of its Office suite as web applications for users of Skydrive. The web apps can be found by going to Skydrive with a web browser after logging in to your Microsoft account at http://skydrive.live.com and pulling down the “Create” icon at the top of the browser. From there you select the kind of document you want: Word document, Excel spreadsheet, Powerpoint presentation, or OneNote notebook.
The resulting documents are .docx, .xlsx, and .pptx files that are compatible with the desktop Office applications and can easily be shared on the Skydrive.
It’s hard to pick a winner between Word Web App and Google Docs in terms of features. Mostly it comes down to which user interface you are most comfortable with and who you collaborate with. Both apps save files only in their native formats.
|Feature||Word Web App||Google Docs|
|Page breaks and numbering||Y||Y|
|Headers and footers||Y||Y|
|Review and comments||Y||Y|
|More pre-defined styles and fonts||Y|
|Change page orientation||Y|
As for me, I’ve used Word for many years but never really got used to the ribbon interface, I liked the Word menu interface when you could navigate with keyboard shortcuts. Google supports shortcuts and keeps a much simpler interface. And its better for web publishing because it uses HTML formatting: text can simply cut and paste text to web pages and the correct formatting will be preserved.
The Excel Web App also has the familiar ribbon user interface and its same advantages and disadvantages as the Word Web App. Both apps have a similar set of graphs and charts as well as set of functions. Google Sheets doesn’t support Table formatting which can be a real time saver when it comes to making workbooks pretty.
|Feature||Excel Web App||Google Sheets|
|Freeze rows and columns||Y|
|Wide array of graphs and charts||Y||Y|
|Wide array of functions||Y||Y|
A feature that I miss in both versions is the Text-to-Table and feature which parses through data tables that have been cut and paste as text. Google Sheets supports scripts and user defined functions which make the app a lot more open ended than the Excel Web App but I doubt than anyone beside hard core geeks will be interested in that.
The PowerPoint Web App is a bit better than Google Slides because it has a full set of SmartArt which makes it a lot easier to put together complex charts. It also has a better array of themes and animations. Google has WordArt which doesn’t seem to do very much. It lets you color text and rotate it but that’s about all.
|Feature||PowerPoint Web App||Google Slides|
|Wide array of themes||Y||Y|
|Good selection of symbols||Y|
Google doesn’t have an equivalent to OneNote. OneNote is a useful tool for managing unstructured information like web pages, to do lists and project reports all in one file. It lets you keep all the bits and pieces of a project in one place for easy access. Within each file you can have sections which include pages which may have subpages. Its a nice addition to the Office suite. Unfortunately, there’s no Chrome plug-in to send web pages to OneNote in Chrome OS.
In the end, both sets of web apps have pretty much the same functionality. You’ll probably find yourself going to Microsoft Web Apps if you are familiar and comfortable with the Office interface and if file compatibility with other users or your own Office programs is important.
Google Apps is surprisingly rich in features despite its simple uncluttered interface. It is less intimidating for the casual user but still has all the features most power users will need.
Both web apps are based on cloud storage and make it easy to have your files wherever you go and to share them as you need. But its not easy to move files between clouds. We’ll leave that to another day.