Preview: Microsoft Office 14 for Web

Well whaddya’ know – with the computing industry’s collective consciousness almost fully occupied with Apple, Web 2.0, social computing and web-based applications, it’s almost as though we forgot that the world’s largest software company is still making stuff!

Until today, I think I’ve gone 2-3 years without entering into a browser address bar!

Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference has been a flurry of activity this week with the launch of Windows Azure, previews of Windows 7 and, notably for web workers, confirmation of an web-based edition of Microsoft Office, previewed as Office 14 for Web. As Microsoft’s pitch for the new suite explains…

Wouldn’t it be cool if all the Office applications worked online, cross-browser from anywhere with AJAX and/or Silverlight? Or maybe even from your cellphone? What would be even better is if they had real time collaboration, integrating the rich client with the web clients. Well, wish no more because all of the above is going to be a part of the next Office Suite.

An accompanying video goes on to explain the reasoning behind the launch of the service and a brief demonstration of collaboration between users. Curiously, Microsoft describes the new web-based applications as a component of Office, implying that the service won’t be a free, ad-supported suite like Google Apps. Word, Powerpoint, Excel and OneNote.

Cnet News earlier published some screenshots from Office 14 for Web – and it certainly looks as though Office retains the look and feel of its desktop counterpart, with even the famous Ribbon toolbar of Office 2007 making it to the online editions.

It’ll be interesting to observe the effect Microsoft’s entry into this space has on competitors like Google, Zoho, ThinkFree and others. Though I switched from Windows to OS X early last year, I still have a preference for Office for Mac 2008 to Apple’s iWork, OpenOffice 3.0 and Google Apps – as strong as they all are. Millions of people find comfort in the familiarity of Microsoft’s flagship franchise and extending it fully to the web can only help web workers everywhere.

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