According to recent reports, Microsoft may be broadcasting Office PWAs to Windows Insiders without their permission. While we hope the practice never becomes mainstream, it’s worth briefly learning what the Office PWAs actually are and how they can help.
First of all, here’s what happens: Windows Latest reported Wednesday that members of the Windows Insider Beta program had broadcast the various Office apps as Progressive Web Apps or PWAs without signing in. Remember, Insiders need to sign up specifically for this beta program. and of course get new builds. WL also reported that these PWAs were relayed to a subset of insiders. In other words, there’s a chance this won’t happen to you anytime soon.
What is a PWA?
A PWA is essentially a webpage saved as an app that can be listed in your Windows 10 Start menu. Microsoft 365 apps (formerly Office 365) can either exist as a dedicated app that runs right on your PC or as part of the Office service (also known as Office Online) that runs in the cloud. If you’re like me, you’re probably switching back and forth between online and local apps without even thinking about it. I’ll be creating new benchmark tables in my local copy of Excel that is saved on my hard drive, but I have PCWorld’s templates and other tables in an Edge bookmark. My experience with both is essentially the same.
A big advantage of a PWA: Instead of downloading and installing something, the PWA lives in the cloud. You still need a Microsoft 365 license, but you can be up and running in a second or two.
Microsoft seems to transfer these PWAs or websites to your PC and place them next to the dedicated Office apps that are already in your Start menu. Yes, it’s unnecessarily confusing. But it shows that the two experiences are almost identical. If you’d like, you can try it yourself: use Edge to visit Office.com and click the little plus sign on the edge of the URL bar next to the little star that denotes a favorite website. Click on it and the Office PWA will be added to your Start menu.
If that has a downside, two Office apps now live side by side and it’s really difficult to tell them apart. But there is a good reason for that.
For one thing, every app that lives in the cloud can be managed by a developer like Microsoft, who can issue patches and updates extremely quickly. In the past, new features Microsoft announced for Microsoft Office were made available first to the online versions of Office, then to the version of Microsoft Office on your PC, and later to mobile apps for iOS and Android.
It’s also possible that a PWA could use fewer computing resources than a dedicated app over time. However, my quick comparisons of opening a spreadsheet with Excel and the Office PWA didn’t show any significant differences.
Think of the Office PWA like your PC’s touchscreen. There’s nothing to say that you have to use a PWA. However, they’re a convenient option when it’s just more convenient to work through a tabbed web interface than through a dedicated app.
There is one big problem with a PWA, however: Microsoft’s Office PWAs don’t seem to work offline. If your internet connection goes down, you will not be able to access the app at all. That (hopefully) rarely happens.
So far, Microsoft representatives have not responded to a request for comment on whether PWAs will be more emphasized in the future. However, if Microsoft does this, you should have a better idea of how your virtual workspace can change.
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