While Microsoft doesn’t seem too interested in adding offline support for the Office Web Apps—the web-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote—it does in fact support this capability in Outlook Web App, the web-based email, contacts, calendar, and tasks management solution in the business versions of Microsoft. Here’s how to enable it and how it works.
Enabling offline access to the Office 365 Web Apps simple enough, though it should be noted that you must perform these steps on each PC for which you wish to do this. (Offline access is designed for portable computers only, not non-Windows tablets or smart phones.)
From the Office 365 web interface, navigate to Outlook and then click the Settings (gear) icon.
Then, in the pane that appears, select Turn on offline access and then click OK.
Outlook Web App will ask you if you are the only one that uses this PC; this is somewhat analogous to the public/shared or private computer choice you may be familiar with from previous versions of the web app sign-in screen. Choose according and click Next.
Then, you’re prompted about a potential browser notification about allowing the local storage request. As you might imagine, Outlook Web App will need to use a bit of PC storage in order for offline access to work. Click Next, optionally create a bookmark to Outlook Web App, and click Next again. Now, click OK to close the pane.
So what works?
According to Microsoft, “most tasks that you can do online are available when you’re offline.” This includes, but is not limited to, reading and responding to messages, sending new messages (which will sit in Outbox until you’re online) viewing and editing your calendar, responding to meeting requests (again, the response will be sent when you’re online), and viewing and editing your contacts.
There are also some limitations, of course. When offline, Outlook Web App will only provide access to the last three days of email messages, and it only works with the Inbox and Drafts folders, and as well as any other email folders you’ve accessed in the past two days (up to 20 folders, Microsoft says). It will display 150 messages per offline folder. Attachments are not available.
For Calendar, you will see only the previous month and future year of appointments, and then only in your primary calendar. Reminders are “limited,” according to Microsoft, and can stop working if you stay offline for too long. All contacts are available when offline.
Obviously, if you want the full offline experience, you should be using the native Outlook 2013 client. But some Office 365 business customers don’t have access to the suite, and in my case at least, I happen to prefer web-based clients, including Outlook Web App. And this is a nice way to maintain a basic connection to your cloud-based Outlook data when you’re on the go.