Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Microsoft Opens Office Web Apps for Selective Testing

Microsoft will allow a select group to test its Office Web Apps online. Invitees to the Office Web Apps Technical Preview program will be able to access lightweight versions of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Microsoft said Office Web Apps will be integrated with Office 2010 to deliver productivity across PCs, mobile devices, and browsers.
Microsoft took the cover off its Web-based versions of the Microsoft Office suite on Thursday, at least partially. The software giant offered what it calls the Office Web Apps Technical Preview program that will allow a select group to give the software a test drive before the official beta rolls out later this year.
Invitees will receive access to a lightweight version of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint on the Web through Windows Live. Microsoft also announced the formal name for the Web-based applications: Office Web Apps. The suite includes Word Web App, Excel Web App, PowerPoint Web App, and OneNote Web App.

Microsoft's aim with Office Web Apps is to allow people to access, share and work on Office documents from virtually anywhere with an Internet connection.

"Our mission with the upcoming release of Microsoft Office 2010 is to deliver a great productivity experience, improving upon what customers depend upon today, and innovating on what they'll expect tomorrow. Office Web Apps are a key part of our vision for Office 2010," said Michael Schultz, director of marketing for Microsoft Office Services.

Anywhere Productivity
Schultz said the Office 2010 release is designed to deliver a productivity experience across PCs, mobile devices, and browsers. Office Web Apps will be integrated with Office to give users the ability to save open documents on the Web directly from Microsoft Office 2010.

Microsoft is offering Office Web Apps through Windows Live because the company sees it as a strategic hub for people to store and share information such as photos, contacts, calendars and documents on Windows Live SkyDrive.

"The latest statistics tell us two-thirds of the worldwide population is online at least once a month, and in the United States, 89 percent of the top 100 companies offer telecommuting," Schultz said. "That means people are on the move and need to stay productive with access to their information, no matter where they are. Office Web Apps empower people to access information and edit and share documents in a familiar environment from practically anywhere, on virtually any device."

The full feature set for Office Web Apps will be available in the first half of 2010, and offered in three ways. Windows Live customers will have access to Office Web Apps on Windows Live SkyDrive. Office Web Apps will be available to Office 2010 volume-licensing business customers, hosted with a Microsoft SharePoint Server on-premises. Businesses will also have access to Office Web Apps through Microsoft Online Services.

Better Than Google Apps?
Matt Rosoff, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, said Office Web Apps appears to give end users an almost identical experience to what they will get with Office 2010. And he points to a job well done with document fidelity.

"There's round-tripping, so if you open a document online and you also decide to open it in your local version of Office and make changes, those changes will be saved back to the online version," Rosoff said. "It really made it pretty transparent to the end user."

The big question: How does it compare to Google Apps? Rosoff said Office Web Apps offers more functionality than the free version of Google Apps.

"Google Apps has a 500k maximum upload size. So if you have any images or if you have a long text document with formatting and images, that's not going to work in Google Apps," Rosoff said. "With these Office Web Apps, you get 25 gigabytes of storage per user. It's pretty generous for a free service."