Editor’s Note 12 December: Microsoft published Office 365 Notification MC197736 to say that OWA can be installed as a progressive web app (PWA) in Chromium-based browsers (Office 365 roadmap item 59250). As it turns out, this is exactly what I describe here. I asked Microsoft about this and was told that the ability to install OWA as a PWA was made available to some users to allow Microsoft to assess the impact. Once they were happy that OWA works well as a PWA, Microsoft moved the feature to be generally available, which is now the state. Documentation is even available!
Creating Apps from Web Sites
Normally people run OWA in a browser tab because this is the way that OWA has always functioned since its introduction in Exchange 5.0 in 1997. With the latest browsers, it’s possible to create desktop shortcuts and pin websites to the Windows taskbar. Apart from giving you fast access to the website, you can run browser-based applications like they are desktop apps (well, nearly).
I’ve been using the Chromium-based version of the Edge browser (aka, “Cheedge”) for a number of months and am impressed; so much so that I have largely moved over from Chrome and now use Chredge almost exclusively. Several months ago, Microsoft introduced the ability to create apps from web sites. It’s easy to do. Open the web site, click the […] menu, select Apps and then Install this site as an app (Figure 1).
In this case, the chosen web site was OneDrive for Business. I had the chance to change the name of the desktop shortcut before confirming that I wanted to create the app. Once done, Chredge closed the tab where OneDrive for Business was running and opened it in another window that looks and feels like a desktop app (for instance, you can ALT-Tab to move to it). Behind the scenes, the apps are running as they would in a browser tab; but the look and feel and ease of access are nicer.
Some people prefer using OWA to desktop Outlook, especially after the improvements made in its most recent iteration where Microsoft seems to be throwing the full kitchen sink of artificial intelligence at OWA in its intelligent technology initiative. I use both clients, but I much prefer to run OWA when connected over flaky Wi-Fi networks like those you get on most airlines, especially on transatlantic or transpacific flights. OWA is a less demanding application than Outlook desktop is when it comes to network consumption, so it makes a heap of sense to use OWA (Figure 2) as the primary client in these circumstances, especially when it’s available as a desktop shortcut and on the taskbar.
Using OWA in this manner is as secure as using it in browser tab. For example, my account uses multi-factor authentication (as you should all do). When the access tokens expire, you’ll be prompted to reauthenticate. Figure 2 shows how OWA prompts for authentication by looking for a response from the Microsoft Authenticator app (on a smartphone).
In addition to OWA, I have other apps like Stream, the Office 365 Admin Center, Twitter, Planner, To Do, and LinkedIn set up for easy access. After using apps like this for several months, I prefer having separate windows for each instead of hunting them down in multiple tabs within the browser.
I do not have Teams as I constantly switch between tenants and the single-window nature of the Teams app doesn’t facilitate having one window open for one tenant and another for a different tenant, unless you use different browsers or private sessions.
Those who prefer Chrome can create the same type of desktop shortcuts and taskbar entries by clicking the […] menu, selecting More Tools, and then Create shortcut. I don’t know why Chredge calls pinned sites apps and Chrome refers to them as shortcuts, but am sure someone knows a good reason.
The Office 365 for IT Pros eBook includes many tips for how to work with the wide range of clients that connect to Microsoft’s cloud office system. All based on real-world experience, just like this.