Your Chromebook might not be able to use Office 365 offline anymore

ASUS Chromebook Flip C536
ASUS Chromebook Flip C536 (Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

What you need to know

  • Microsoft is planning to remove Chromebook support from the Office for Android apps.
  • The transition takes place in September, with Microsoft pushing users to use the 365 web apps instead.
  • It's unclear if the web apps will be upgraded to PWAs that can be used offline since currently, Office 365's web apps cannot.
  • Office for Android won't be going away for phones or tablets, just for Chromebooks.

One of the earliest complaints about Chromebooks was that "you couldn't do anything offline," but those times have long since passed. Android apps, Progressive Web Apps, and Linux apps allow the best Chromebooks to stay productive when away from the comforts of Wi-Fi, and Microsoft's 365 suite had used Android apps for this for years. However, it seems those days are coming to an end.

Microsoft has long allowed 365 subscribers to access its services on Chromebooks in two ways: the Android app and the 365 websites. This led to some confusion as features and layout were different between the two, and now Microsoft seeks to simplify things, beginning to tell 365 users that they'd be discontinuing Chromebook support for Office for Android, guiding people to the web apps instead. A Microsoft spokesperson told Kevin C Toffel of About Chromebooks as much in a statement:

In an effort to provide the most optimized experience for Chrome OS/Chromebook customers, Microsoft apps (Office and Outlook) will be transitioned to web experiences (Office.com and Outlook.com) on September 18, 2021. This transition brings Chrome OS/Chromebook customers access to additional and premium features. Customers will need to sign in with their personal Microsoft Account or account associated with their Microsoft 365 subscription. More information is available here."

Honestly, the web app looks better and adapts better to the vast array of screen and window sizes on Chromebooks — Office for Android is designed as a full-screen experience for tablets, after all — but there's one app feature many users may miss: offline functionality. Office's web app can act as a Progressive Web App right now, but it doesn't allow you to open or edit documents when offline. Given Microsoft's mention of "additional and premium features," hopefully, that means they'll be bringing a better experience and offline functionality before too long.

After all, going from a native solution to a web container feels like a step backward, and it'll make Office 365 less of a competitor for Google Workspace (formerly known as G Suite), the Google Drive suite of productivity apps. And if you're working full-time on a Chromebook, you need something that you know will work consistently wherever you end up working.

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.

4 Comments
  • This is gonna end up in court.
  • "Web apps are great, but you know what's really cool? Offline access." Yea, but, that's not what Chromebooks and ChromeOS were designed for. Yes, Google has changed that to some degree, but the concept is still for a connected environment. While I wouldn't say decent connectivity is ubiquitous, I would say it is, in those use cases that really lend themselves to Chromebooks.
  • The timing makes sense. As Microsoft readies the release of Windows 11 with support for Android apps, it is a good move to get Office365 customers to switch from chromebooks to low-end Windows notebooks running Win 11. These new notebooks will have access to the full MS Office suite offline.
  • I bought one of those low end laptops for my granddaughter for school. Biggest mistake ever. A snail could boot up and run faster than this piece of junk. Ended up buying a new one for her that did the job.