How to Use Free Microsoft Office Online

This first article in the Introduction to Data Analysis series will walk you through setting up Microsoft’s free Office Online and introduce you to using Excel Online with OneDrive.  This article will walk you through getting a Microsoft account, setting up Office Online, storing files in OneDrive and creating an excel document.

I feel very strongly that everyone, regardless of income and resources, should participate in the data economy. Microsoft Office Online provides a free version of office and can be a great resource, regardless of income. My goal is to take new users and create data power users to empower them to achieve more, and this article series provides the first step.

You can use many tools for data analysis, and depending on your skill level, that could range from Excel to coding in Python. This series of articles shows you how to set up your data analysis environment with various tools. These first reviews set up the free version of Microsoft Office that you can use online in a browser.

What is Office Online?

Office Online is a feature-compatible version of Microsoft Office that you can use from within a browser. I have used this on various platforms, Windows, Mac, Ubuntu Linux, and Chromebooks. The included services are shown in the Figure above. More information about all these services can be found on the Office.com website.

For the introduction to data analysis, we use both OneDrive and Excel. OneDrive provides a location to save and organize your work. If you create a new document, the default location is the OneDrive folder, as shown below.

Note: This article features the free version of Office Online, Free Microsoft Office Online, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, formerly Office Online. This includes Word for the Web, PowerPoint for the web and Excel for the Web.

There are personal and business plans available which provide more functions, features, versions for mobile and desktop office. Check the Compare All Microsoft 365 Plans (Formerly Office 365) – Microsoft Store for your region for more details. At the time of writing (March 2021), there are family and personal plans. For 2 to 6 people, Microsoft 365 can include Microsoft Office for each and up to 6TB of storage (1TB/Person). Check the link above for a comparison of the different purchase plans.

Create Account and Sign Up for Office Online

Before we get too deep, let’s create a Microsoft account and sign up for Office Online. This section assumes that you do not have a Microsoft account. The account is in the form of an email address, username@Outlook, rather than just a name.

A Microsoft account lets you sign into various Microsoft websites that support using these as a single set of credentials. The key is that the website is not checking the validity of your sign-on but a Microsoft authentication server that uses a secure connection.

Setting up a new account is easiest from the Outlook.com website. On the main page, click on the Create Free Account button.


The Create Account screen is then displayed. You want to enter a name that you would like to use for your email address. The dialogue displays an error if anyone else has already used that email address.

Try not to have something like myname55 or slang. You might want to use this for something professional, think job resume.  Perhaps FirstName.Lastname or some variant.

The email address is also a Microsoft account that you use to sign in to Office Online and other services such as Xbox Live, as an example.  Select Next when you have completed the address.

The Password screen is displayed for entry. I would recommend something easy to remember and a special character or number—an example format such as 87Benefit87##. You can also choose to have information sent to your email account when services change. I would suggest yes and unsubscribe later if you do not find the information useful. Click Next when finished.

Note:   I would highly recommend you turn on two-factor authentication for your Microsoft account.  See the support article, How to use two-step verification with your Microsoft account for more details.

Now that you have a User ID and Password, you are asked for your First and Last name for personalization.

The Add Details screen is used for information about your Region and Birthdate. These are mandatory fields and help identify you in the system if you ever need support, and region helps in the settings used in the applications online.

To prove you are not a robot, you need to enter the Captcha.

You now have your account; you are brought over to the application website. You are then prompted with a short introductory message and some final settings.  You can also change these settings later under the Settings screen in your Account. Select the arrow for each panel, which brings you to outlook.

Select your preferred Language and Time Zone.

Select a Theme for the borders.

Select and enter a signature that will be added to your Emails.

This screen allows you to add elements and notifications to your Calendar.

This screen allows you to have a link sent to your cell phone which provides an Outlook as a mobile application.

Now we are all set to go!

Once Outlook is displayed, as below, our account is now set up and are ready for the next step, logging into Office Online.

Sign into Office Online

Now that we have an account lets sign into Office Online. Going to Office.Com provides the following options.

You can sign in using either Sign In option, Menu or Button, highlighted above.

Sign in using your recently created account or an existing Microsoft account. Once you click on Sign In, you have the following dialogue.  Enter your Microsoft account email address.

Enter your password. You can also select the Keep me signed in, checkbox which keeps a token so that you do not need to enter your password on your next visit.  I prefer to have safe habits as you might forget to sign out on a public machine at a library or cafe.  Only keep logged in on your secure machine.

In this step, you may see both of these screens.

When you log in, at some point in the conversation, you will be asked to verify your account via a text message or an automated call. This information allows you to keep your sign in safer than just having a password by proving who you are.

First, add in a phone number;

•.1 Microsoft 
Help us protect your aca 
Passwords can be forgotten or stolen. Jus 
add security info now to help you get 
your account if something goes wrong. Wc 
use this info to spam you—just to keep 
account more secure. Learn more. 
What security info would you like to add? 
A phone number 
Canada (+1) 
Verify phone via:

Now enter the code you received.

Enter code 
Enter the code we sent to 
Skip for now (6 days until this is required) 
I don't have a code

Now that we are signed in and have our account, let’s take a quick tour.

Quick Tour of OneDrive

Since OneDrive is the glue holding the applications together, we should do a quick overview. OneDrive is a web interface over a cloud storage drive that appears and works just like a local hard drive. You load and save files to folders. These folders that you create can be in a hierarchy, just like your local drive.

  1. Click on the OneDrive application icon

The web interface for OneDrive will be displayed as pictured below.

OneDrive is a full-featured repository for your files. You can create new folders and files and uploaded them by dragging and dropping them onto the service screen or click on Upload to point to a specific directory.

You will create different folders as you begin your analysis.  A future article will review how that can be structured.  You can also use this technique to import source data into your online environment.

2. Create New Files and Folders.

You can click the down arrow along the top menu bar and open a new document of the selected type in that web-based application. Clicking New, Word creates a new document called “Documents” in your Documents folder in OneDrive, for example.

3. Upload Files through the interface.

You can upload files or folders to transfer them from your local machine to the cloud.

Once selected, Files for example, a popup window appears which allows you to select the file you wish to upload, as pictured below.

The following screen print captured below shows a folder example. This can be quite handy when transferring local files to the cloud as you set up your environment.

The process will not upload empty folders; however, you will get a warning message such as the following picture below.  If you have many empty folders in your hierarchy you want to duplicate, create a small placeholder.txt file, created in notepad, into each empty folder.  This way, all the folders will be uploaded, preserving the structure you have.

Once complete your files will display as shown below.

That is a quick overview of OneDrive and should be enough to get started.  The following online documentation and videos are available that will provide more detailed training.

Finding Your Way Around

Now that we have an account and sign in, this section gives a brief tour of Microsoft Office Online. Each numbered item referenced below is the main portal screen that is displayed after login.

The Office Online portal screen can be divided up into 7 different sections, outlined below.

The App Launcher

As you can see from above, more applications shown in the app launcher, pictured below, are displayed on the portal. Applications added over time, so come back to this menu from time to time. Remember that even though these applications are all browser-based, they are very close to their desktop application cousins, so try out some you may not have used.


Selecting one of the applications on the app launcher opens that application in a new tab in your browser.

Account Information

This item provides access to My Account, My profile and option to Sign Out.

The My Info screen allows you to add a picture and change your personal information. This screen is for your Microsoft account and will display the same information in other Microsoft services you use this account.

My Account information below provides more options and settings.

The account screen allows you to change and set up various options for your account.

Install Office

This allows you to install office by purchasing a Premium account.

This icon takes you to the Office Product page which has an overview of Office 365 with features, options, and prices.

Create a New Document

This drop-down allows you to open an application and create a new document all within the same click.

Application Launcher Icons

These icons allow you to launch one of the Microsoft Office Online applications.



The Office Online portal contains the document library which houses the documents create in each of the applications.

 Working with Documents While Online

Now that we have everything set up, here is a quick overview of some key points to get you started. The Excel example below’s general steps and experience are roughly the same for each of the main online applications.

When you log in to Office.com using your account, the following portal is displayed, as we saw above. This shows the applications and the recent documents you have used and a link to open your OneDrive folders.

Open Excel and create a document by clicking on the Excel icon which brings up the following.

There are many templates to choose from. Select New Blank Workbook to open a new workbook. A blank workbook will be displayed.

The arrow pointing to the location and the book name is shown below. Book is the default name, simply select this by clicking on it and type in a new name for the workbook.

Pictured below is after the name change.

Notice that the location is OneDrive > Documents which will be the default location for most applications. You can change this to other folders just as in a local drive.   The Documents folder was created automatically when the sign-up process finished.  You can also go to the location in One Drive and select “NEW” on the interface, and select Excel as the document type to be created in that folder.

It is important to know that the document is treated as Live as you edit. Under the File menu, there is not a Save option. The document is saved after each change you make. There are other options, as pictured below, just as with the desktop version.


That is about it!! Once you have your account and sign into Office, you have a full featured online version of Office. In future articles, we will cover beginning data analysis using Office Online.

I hope this article and the series of articles to follow helps to achieve this.

The next article will show how to use the Office Online version of Excel to review data analysis techniques. 


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