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Using something other than Microsoft Office with Sharepoint Online

Tarkisal
Tarkisal asked
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Last Modified: 2020-05-19
We use Sharepoint Online for our main company document storage and management. When a user opens an Office file (.xls, xlsx, .doc, and docx most commonly) it usually opens into Word or Excel Online. This is fine but limited. Often, the user will have to then go to Edit and then "Edit with Excel (Or Word) and those programs will open up.

The problem is 85% of my users don't use Microsoft Office for anything but basic editing. I AM looking into seeing if just using the Excel and Word online will be sufficient going forward, but it's frustrating to have to buy new copies of Microsoft Office Home and Business for $190-$220 a PC just so they can use this slightly added functionality.

Here is my question -are there any free or cheaper alternatives that will work with Sharepoint Online? I've tried LibreOffice and WPS Office and, while those programs can easily read all of those file types, Sharepoint Online simply doesn't see them as available. If I was to download the file I'm trying to open I could then edit it in WPS Office and then re-upload it, but I'm wondering if there is a way to force Share Point Online to see these other programs and function as if they were opening with Microsoft Office. (The programs are listed as the default application for each file type listed)

I understand Microsoft probably has gone out of their way to not allow a program other than Office proper to work with Sharepoint Online, but if anyone knows of a way to get Sharepoint Online to recognize a different program that would be very helpful as Office 2007 support is ending soon and I will have a very large expense coming up if I can't find a solution. More information below:

Dell PC with Windows 10 Pro
Have tried WPS Office 2016 and Libre Office
See screenshots below for result
Users have Office 365 Subscription K2 or E1 which gives them sharepoint access but not monthly Office 2016 installations
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Colleen Kayter4D Assets

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One key difference between Office and the alternatives? You actually connect to SharePoint from within the apps, so you can browse SharePoint and see recently used files from within the app. You can click Save and automatically save to the server. So it's quite possible that beyond SharePoint seeing Word as the default app for .docx, there's a little handshaking going on.

How Office connects to cloud services
How much are you paying per seat for E1? Also, you don't mention how many users you have...

Perhaps it would make sense to upgrade your SaaS subscription to Office 365 Business Premium @ $12/user/month for those users who need more than the basics (if you have < 300 users or E3 @ $20/seat if you have 300+). A key advantage is that those power users would also be able to install Office on their mobile devices and home computer. Also, consider that your real cost for Office desktop apps is not $220/seat but the difference between E1 and E3, but only for the 15% who need it.

Key advantages to Office 365 desktop apps? Zero maintenance. No more service packs, security patches, bug fixes, etc. It's all done for you unless you want to go crazy with manual deployment and group policies.

After doing the math for a few clients, we discovered the cost of Office 365 vs. Perpetual (w/accounting time for depreciating licenses each year over 5 years) to be in favor of the SaaS model.

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This is exactly what I was looking for. While I appreciate the other Expert's suggestion, I am looking for the lowest cost solution possible. This plugin should be perfect.

Thanks
The question is actually about using the international standard for Content Management integration and interoperability. The actual acronym is CMIS which stands for Content Management Interoperability Services.

Content Management is a big deal and there are many providers in this space, but the undoubted leader is SharePoint.

Microsoft support CMIS in SharePoint 2013 and again in 2016.  Also, it made a big deal of supporting it online in the beginning, but has since backtracked and disabled its support in all new SharePoint releases.

The question you are asking has to do with finding a non-Microsoft office suite such as LibreOffice, WPS or similar that can open a document directly from your content manager and respect all of the content management rules such as version control and checking documents in and out.  The International standard for this is either WEBDav (Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning) or CMIS.

The challenge is that this neither of these standards work for Office 365 SharePoint Online.  You can configure SharePoint 2016 and earlier on premises to support CMIS, but not SharePoint 2019 or online.

The challenge that everyone is facing is that, as the extended support for SharePoint approaches its end of life we are let worrying about what comes after this.

We still have some time since SharePoint 2013 with Service Pack 1 has until April 2023 before you're forced to upgrade and SharePoint 2016 has given us until July 2026.

But nobody warns you that the move to 365 rips out this option unceremoniously without any warning today if you chose to work with SharePoint online.  The move forces you to leave behind the option to use non-Microsoft productivity suites immediately.

@Colleen Kayter: That answer was a sales pitch, not an answer.  I expect more than that as a contributor on Experts Exchange.    Using either WEBDav or CMIS non-Microsoft Office Productivity suites have identical abilities wrt to opening and working in SharePoint pre-2019. There is no true advantage - which is probably the reason Microsoft has chosen to disable the functionality, forcing using to coming back to their products.

I am a Microsoft Cloud Partner and we are a Microsoft house, but it is unrealistic to try an break everything down into the sales pitch of E1 vs everything else.  E1 is an amazing solution, no question, but the issue is the cost of Office vs Libre Office or WPS for rudimentary document editing.  It is the cost difference between E1 and E3 vs ZERO.  

And it is not only for about 15% of your workforce.  Word documents opened online are often in compatiibility mode and do not display layered images or images in headers and footers correctly.  The experience is often far from acceptable.  Often what is needed is just to open the document scroll through, confirm some data and save.

The cost of E3 for your power users is reasonable and expected, but there should be no reason to force people to use your products exclusively and then to deliberately go against the standards and to get your vendors to push everyone into a platform that has become non-standard.

Unfortunately, we are left with the uncomfortable option of having to consider scrapping or embracing everything Microsoft with this approach.  It is uncomfortable and I wish someone could find the time to build a 3rd party CMIS that works so that we can just get on with our lives, offering solutions to our clients instead of being syconphantic sales people who are forced to push product irrespective of the clients needs
While I have said that using CMIS is the right way to get non-Microsoft products to work with SharePoint documents I did not say that there could be a simple work around.  I thought it would be better to put the simple answer separately, so...

On many of my clients I used to simply the synch the library locally or, using the WEBDav compatibility at the operating system level I would map a network drive to the library.  Then I could open the document inside of any program I wanted and it forced SharePoint to regard the folder as simply a network folder.  This seemed to work fine for a while.

Just before posting this message I thought I better give it quick try to confirm that this still works and gues what?  It breaks the entire bloody system.  Suddenly I now find that all of the users are listed as members on the document library.  I created a document on the folder in my OneDrive space and it appeared nicely online. I then opened the document on my local drive using LibreOffice, added some text, saved and closed.  When I open the same document in Word those changes do not appear.  Return to LibreOffice the changes are still in effect there. Looked at the synch status and it now shows an error.

So, no, you can no longer use the work around either.  It comes back down to commit to the Microsoft ecosystem in its entirety or go somewhere else.

I hate this.  WITH. A. PASSION!!!!!


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