Microsoft recently unveiled online, cloud-based versions of the Microsoft office components. If the computer you are using does not have those Microsoft Office, it no longer matters, because can now access versions of MS Word, Excel, and PowerPoint from the web with Microsoft Office Live.
Are they the same Microsoft programs?
I have not used any of the programs exhaustively, but they appear to be extremely similar to the Microsoft Office versions most people use on their hard drives. Each account comes with 5 Gigabytes of storage, and it does not cost anything to have an account.
Should lawyers use it?
The biggest advantage is that you can now access those programs regardless of what computer you are using. If you find yourself stuck using someone else’s old computer, you can still read and modify any work documents that might have been emailed to you.
The downside, like all cloud computing, is security and privacy issues. Microsoft says that all files stored in your online workspace are protected with a virus scanner. Other than that, all that separates your account from anyone is your username and password. At the same time, if you use Gmail, or another cloud based program, it is essentially the same security parameters.
Microsoft does advise, however, that anyone storing work documents on their workspace should check their place of employment’s security policies before uploading and storing anything online.
In other words, be careful. You certainly don’t want to jeopardize your online privacy or security. If you are using someone else’s computer, make sure that if you download a file, and then upload it to your workspace, that you delete the copy on the hard drive. I would also be concerned about having different versions of documents. Your hard drive might contain one version, and your online workspace might contain another version.