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.


4 responses to “Using Microsoft Word Online”

  1. Frederick Northrop says:

    It seems to me that the concerns over the security of cloud computing are irrational reactions to new ideas. (Though I would think Microsoft would implement SSL or other security measures). Most of us have offices which anyone can access with a key or maybe two. I have never worked in a firm where file drawers or rooms were locked or protected by alarms or video surveillance. No doubt some firms do these things, but not many. I’d say only half bother to shred most papers. So, the use of cloud systems protected from access by a username and password is not a particularly worrisome threat.

    If there is something to worry about, it is over whether Microsoft will have easily retrievable back up archives of your work. If not, users will need to make regular backups of their cloud records.

  2. Erik Schmidt says:

    I am really excited about the potential advantages offered by hosting attorney productivity tools in the cloud. Particularly in the small firm space, the pay as you use cloud model, holds promise for flexibility, client/co-counsel collaboration and cash flow management. Like the previous comment, I disagree somewhat on the security concerns. By in large online security comes down to using complex passwords and being willing to change them periodically. By way of example billions of dollars of revenue are run though (a hosted solution). There is no way that their many sophisticated customers would put their KEY sales/pipeline data in the cloud if hosted security was weak.

    However, there still is one primary Achilles heel to cloud/hosted offerings: connectivity. Until you can be certain that you can achieve 98% connectivity in all of the places you practice you need to think twice about a pure play hosted environment (e.g. Energy lawyers in Texas are fine, but need to think twice about that visit to Kazakhstan). Aircards are a big help (I work almost exclusively off one) but not a panacea.

  3. Randall Ryder says:

    @ Frederick and Erik – we use Dropbox and many other cloud-based programs at our firm, so I certainly think the positives outweigh the negatives. At the same, I obviously have some concerns, and want to be sure people are aware of the downsides.

  4. David says:

    A little over a month ago, I had just about every piece of information in my life stored on Google. I’m a law student, now a lawyer, so client confidentiality was not an issue.

    However, someone somehow hacked into my Gmail account and managed to send Viagra spam to about half of my contacts before I saw the activity and blocked the account. If you look up “Gmail account hacked” on Google, you will find this has been happening to TONS of accounts lately.

    I use a Mac on a secure wi-fi network, blah blah blah, with good passwords. While many think this is a virus going around, it is not. It is something on Google’s end, or perhaps some hackers who found a way to crack passwords. Regardless, once they had access to my account, they theoretically had access to my documents, my calendar, my contacts, whatever personal information was stored in my e-mail messages (dating back to 2007), etc.

    I have since created a new e-mail account elsewhere (FastMail), and I no longer have my school e-mail forwarded, as I now realize the value of NOT having one e-mail account for everything.

    Since this incident, and after reading all the reports of it happening to others online, I am very hesitant to store much personal information online, specifically all under one company and one password.

    Currently, I’d rather use Microsoft Office online, my separate e-mail provider, etc., then trust everything to Google. I also no longer use Google Sync for my calendar and contacts to my BlackBerry, and have since resorted to BlackBerry desktop sync to iCal and Address Book (if the hacker deleted all contacts, which they’ve been known to do, it would have wiped them all out of my phone too).

    So, I learned a lesson, and I hope one day we can trust cloud computing, but currently, I just don’t. Specifically Google.

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