I often see sites which provide MS Office™ documents as 'content'. Really these sites are providing offline content downloads, instead of providing the content online. Many sites claim they are providing content online by doing this... but realistically, they're just acting like a download resource and not a website. The user has to wait while the file downloads, then move their attention away from the website to view the document - assuming they have MS Office.

"Doesn't everyone have MS Office, though?" I hear people ask. Well, no - many people use alternatives like OpenOffice, or they may be using a public terminal or handheld device which is not loaded with Office. Ultimately though that's not really the point. The main point is why should they use MS Office to view 'websites' anyway?

Imagine for a moment that you are sitting in bed reading a book; you are comfortable and happy. You turn to the next chapter, then suddenly that book forces you to get up and move to the couch in the lounge room and watch TV for ten minutes. Not long enough to set up properly on the couch. After that, the TV isn't needed anymore so you may as well try to get comfortable in bed again.

It seems ridiculous, really; basically because it is. So why expect users to do the computer equivalent? If the user is browsing your website, why make them break stride to load a word processing package?

Now I imagine people thinking "OK smarty, what am I going to use instead?" It's simple - XHTML will suffice in most cases:

Is there an alternative to Powerpoint (.ppt)?
Yes - S5 Presents - An open-source web-based slideshow application. Be honest with yourself about the value of Powerpoint as 'content'... after all, they are slides created to support a presentation. They shouldn't (and generally don't) provide the full information presented by the speaker.
Is there an alternative to Word (.doc)?
Yes, XHTML documents. If you generate them directly from Word... well, don't. But if you must, run it through Textism: Word HTML Cleaner and/or use Dreamweaver's 'Clean up Word HTML' command.
Is there an alternative to Excel (.xls)?
Yes. For presenting static results, use tables in XHTML. Do not attempt to export XHTML from Excel. Create the table from scratch, or use delimited data files to import the data into Dreamweaver. For online processing, you are looking at a full web application - but then, providing an Excel download didn't accomplish online processing either.
Is there an alternative to Publisher (.pub)?
Yes, XHTML documents. On those occasions Publisher documents find their way online, they usually contain a newsletter or some other small-scale publication originally intended for print. The amount of content is unlikely to be more than a couple of pages, so it should be entirely feasible to recreate an XHTML document without undue hardship.If all else fails, a tagged Adobe PDF file is better than a Publisher document.

So what about the less popular formats like Visio and Project... Realistically, they are not suitable for web content. They are specialised formats for specific forms of output. You may be distributing them via a website, but it's unlikely that anyone would attempt to present their content to users/customers this way. They certainly shouldn't! However, human nature being what it is...

Simple flowcharts and project diagrams can be reproduced using tables in XHTML documents. However anything too complex probably isn't going to work very well that way. Visio can export web graphics like GIF or PNG, however you'll need to do some work to provide a text alternative for the information. Again, there is the fallback of a tagged Adobe PDF.

New formats like SVG will probably become fine replacements for Visio flowcharts and Project charts, but that technology is not quite here.

So, there you have it. For the majority of MS Office formats you can simply use XHTML. For those situations where it just won't work, you can use a PDF (the lesser of two evils). You do not need to distribute MS Office documents on the web.