Just integrate Word Online?

As everyone knows, nowadays there is Word Online.

So why not just use that in your webapp? Specifically:

  • on-premises: Office Online Server (previously Office Web Apps)
  • on the web: as a Microsoft Office Online Cloud Partner

This is actually harder to achieve than it sounds, and if you do do it, it may turn out to be something of a mixed result:

  1. each user must have an Office license
  2. it’ll still come up in a separate browser tab or window
  3. WOPI integration is not so easy
  4. you’ll need Windows Servers
  5. its Microsoft you’d be dealing with
  6. and Word Online is still different to Word

Let me step through these one by one.

But before I do that, let me emphasise that we don’t see things as “Native Documents vs Microsoft”.  The beauty of the docx standard is that you can use docx files in Native Documents and whichever of Microsoft’s Word apps you need to.

Microsoft’s licensing strategy

Business users require an Office 365 subscription to edit files in Office Online. When business users open documents for editing, Office Online will validate that they have a valid Office 365 subscription. This may require the user to sign in using a valid Office 365 business account.

For in-house use (Office Online Server), in order to be able to edit documents, a user must have a suitable Office license: typically an on-premises Office license with Software Assurance or an Office 365 ProPlus (E3) subscription.

So, unless all your users have suitable Office licenses, integrating with Word Online will leave some of them out in the cold.  Clearly, this is a major problem for any application accessed by customers and other external users.

Word Online use case

Word Online is designed primarily as a standalone product – for use when Word proper is not installed – rather than as a component or service developers can integrate into their applications.

This means that in tradeoffs at Microsoft between a consistent end user experience and developer needs, developer needs come second.   So we see very limited ability to change the user interface or interact with it programmatically.

For example, Word Online wants its own browser tab/window; you can’t put it in an iframe within your app.

WOPI = World Of PaIn!

To integrate with Word Online, you have to use Microsoft’s Web Application Open Platform Interface (WOPI) protocol to implement a WOPI host, and jump through some other hoops (as detailed in that link).

Let’s just say WOPI is not designed to be easy to integrate.

In comparison, here at Native Documents we’ve worked hard to make things as simple as possible for you.  The result is that to use Native Documents,  you just need to implement 2 callbacks:

  • one to provide a document to be edited,
  • another to handle an edited document when the user is done editing

That’s it.

Windows Server

Word Online runs on Windows Server, not Linux, increasing your costs in the cloud.

In contrast, our Word File Editor runs in a Docker container, which you can easily deploy in a docker environment.

Its Microsoft

If you did decide to integrate Word Online, it’s Microsoft you’d be dealing with.

On the one hand, a large corporation you know well, and of course the creator of Office itself.

But on the other hand:

  • little chance of customisation/enhancement to meet your specific needs
  • you do business on their terms

And size is no guarantee that things will work properly, or be fixed quickly.  For example, the DropBox integration with Word Online was recently broken for iPad users for some 14 weeks, from 4 Feb to 16 May 2018.

But Word Online ain’t Word

There are differences in how some documents look in Word Online as compared to Word.  The top issue at word.uservoice.com for Word Online by a wide margin is “Word Online should have all the features of normal word”.

And “long” documents might be a problem.

Word Online is best thought of as mere one of a number of editors which can be used to edit docx files.  Native Documents is another.  That’s the beauty of an open file format.

But for all these editors, the gold standard for interoperability is Word (2007, 2010, 2013 or 2016) on the Windows  desktop.

We can only suggest that you test your documents in Word Online.

And of course, invite you to try them in Native Documents: you can simply drag/drop your own Word (docx or binary .doc) file.

In Summary

With that we’d like to invite you to give Native Documents a try.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised how easy it is to get started, and delighted, we hope, in our responsiveness to your needs.