A Chromebook MS Word Online Fail Story

The challenges of collaborating on a long and complicated Word document using a Chromebook.

September 3, 2015

My MacBook Air is in the shop for repairs. 

Somehow the com.apple.appkit.xpc.openAndSavePanelService service is going crazy, pegging the %CPU at over 150%. The result has been that the Air freezes up when attaching a document to an e-mail, or even sometimes saving a Text file. Clearly sub-optimal. I suspect a failure in the solid state hard drive, but we will see.

The result of losing my MacBook Air to repair is that I've been working with my backup Chromebook. Before I tell you my Chromebook fail story, I want to stipulate that I am theoretically pro Chromebook. Theoretical in the sense that I'm happy to recommend a Chromebook for everyone else, but you'd have to pry my MacBook Air out of my cold dead hands.  

The reason that I'm pro Chromebook is that I think that the Chromebook offers tremendous value. The Dell Chromebook 11 (my backup machine) clocks in at $269. The Chromebook does about everything that I need to do on a daily basis. E-mail, writing in Google Docs or Evernote, presentations Google Slides, spreadsheets in Google Sheets, surfing, Twitter, IHE reading, etc. etc.  All work fine through the browser, and the Chrome OS has gotten much better at both offline access and in dealing with MS Office files.  

The Chromebook is light, cheap, and basically indestructible. Any organization with any laptop support costs or the need to have a common platform should take a hard look at the ROI of simply handing out Chromebooks to everyone.

So where did my Chromebook fail? The Chromebook, and the Chrome OS, is still not the best choice if your collaborating with others on a long and complicated Word document. 

Maybe this is not really the fault of Google, the Chrome OS, and the Chromebook.  Perhaps the real culprit is Microsoft. I don't know.  

What fails? First, you need access to Office Online. The good news is that I have access to Office Online through the Microsoft Campus Agreement at my school. Actually using Word Online on a Chromebook to interact with a Track Changes marked up document is another story. The problem seems less in seeing the Track Changes comments and editing, it is more in sharing the document back and forth.  

I'm not sure if the problem is Word Online not working well in an OS where it is not possible to go between the client and online application, or if the problem is in Chrome OS making it difficult to deal with filetypes that are not born Google Docs, but nothing seemed to really work.  It was hard to find where saved updates of the original Word file would live on the Chromebook, and harder still to share updated files with anyone who was not also using MS Word Online. Office 365 seems to want to keep people in a closed loop of other Office 365 users.

A better choice may be convert the Word document into a Google Doc, as most of the formatting and the Track Changes notes are preserved as comments. The challenge is that long and complicated documents do not go back and forth between Word and Google Docs all that elegantly.  

The formatting and workflow for collaborative editing on long documents seems to run into some difficulties when converting back and forth between Google and MS formats. If everything is done in Google Docs, or everything is done is in MS Word, than the process of working collaboratively on writing and editing of big documents works well. The problem, it seems, is in the going back and forth between formats and platforms.

Should Google put a focus on having the Chromebook as a back up machine? This would mean paying more attention to easy compatibility with OSX and Windows machines, rather than new features.   

Or should Google be pushing towards a Mac and Windows replacement device?

What has been your experience with going back and forth between Mac/Windows machines and a Chromebook?

What is your backup computer should your main machine die?



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