The web version of Microsoft Office is quite nice — we happily named it to our list of the 50 best sites of 2013. It also has an oddly low profile. Microsoft hasn’t done much to promote its existence — or, actually, even make it easy to find.
Until now. Today, the company’s changing the name of the service from “Office Web Apps” to the more straightforward “Office Online.” More important, it’s redone Office.com to put the web editions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint front and center. You can’t miss ’em. (As before, you can also get to them from the web storage service now known as OneDrive.)
Office Online is one of the few outposts of the Office empire that’s free. For the most part, Microsoft wants you to pay for a subscription to Office 365, which is the only way to get access to the iPhone and Android versions of the suite. I don’t begrudge the company’s interest in making money off one of its principal products, but this business model tends to leave the Windows version in the center of the Office galaxy, with the other incarnations as satellites. And that doesn’t encourage Microsoft to make every version of every Office app as good as it can possibly be on its own terms.
With fresh scuttlebutt that the iPad edition of the suite may finally be imminent, it would be nice to think that this higher-profile relaunch of the free web version is a sign that Microsoft is reassessing that strategy. Office for iPad doesn’t have to be a freebie, but it’ll be welcome news if there’s a way to get it short of subscribing to Office 365.