To coincide with the release of the desktop Office 2010 beta, Microsoft (s msft) is finally embracing the web office with today’s release of Microsoft Office 2010 Web Apps beta, a web version of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote that augments or even replaces the desktop version of Microsoft Office.
With Google (s goog) and Zoho adding new features and winning customers from the venerable Microsoft Office suite, putting Office on the web is a move that is long overdue. It has the potential to offer users a better way to collaborate with their employers, clients and project teams.
Office Web Apps for Businesses and Consumers
It is important to understand how Microsoft is rolling out Office 2010 Web Apps, since it is actually serving two masters with this launch.
- Office Web Apps for Businesses. This version of Office Web Apps is accessible via the SharePoint 2010 beta. It is feature complete with no expectations of major changes between the beta and Office 2010 RTM version next year. Businesses will get this version as part of the SharePoint licensing.
- Office Web Apps for Consumers. The consumer version of Office Web Apps runs on SkyDrive, with the Microsoft Office team following the Windows Live services model and development schedule. There will be no beta for the consumer version until Office 2010 goes production in the first half of 2010. The Excel Web App and PowerPoint Web App on Windows Live are feature complete. The Word Web App and OneNote Web Apps won’t be feature complete until the Office 2010 launch in the first half of next year. Consumers will be access this version through their Windows Live account.
While the application features of both versions are the same, the back ends differ. As the business version runs on SharePoint 2010 beta, organizations will have more control over compliance and security. The consumer version doesn’t have such controls.
I was disappointed to find out that you’ll have to wait until it goes online in the first half of next year on Windows Live, unless you have an employer or client running SharePoint 2010. I was fortunate enough to get early access to an instance of Office Web Apps running in a SharePoint 2010 beta environment.
OneNote Web App. My first stop was the OneNote Web App. I was eager to see it after having a positive experience with the OneNote 2010 Technical Preview. The OneNote Web App will be familiar if you’ve used the desktop app with notebooks, sections and pages. The integration of a “History” tab, where you can browse previous versions of a notebook and a list of users who’ve accessed it is a nice touch, and a necessity for project teams who want to collaborate via OneNote 2010 and the OneNote Web App.
Word Web App. The Word Web App includes a base set of formatting tools, including table support. This level of features is probably fine for 80 percent of users. Power users who need the full set of formatting and other tools will still need the functionality provided by the desktop suite.
PowerPoint Web App. Online presentations are a hot commodity this year, with lots of choices available, including SlideRocket and Zoho Show. The PowerPoint Web App comes complete with base-level features including text editing and slide management tools. As I generally like my presentation tools a bit more feature-rich, I think that the PowerPoint Web App will fill a role for more novice users and content reviewers, rather than being suitable for those users tasked to put together a full-blown PowerPoint presentation.
Excel Web App. . The Excel Web App includes a base set of formatting and computational tools, which I see as fine for more general users, but, again, power users who need features like Pivot Tables will need the functionality provided by the desktop suite.
Microsoft Office in a Web World
While my dive into the Office Web Apps beta was largely positive, I still only see Office Web Apps as a complementary offering to the desktop Office suite — it isn’t a complete replacement.
I am sitting back and reserving judgment as to how (or whether) Microsoft can adjust to the iterative development and release cycle popular with other web applications. The release cycles of Google Docs, Zoho Business, and Acrobat.com have delivered features into the hands of users at a pace that desktop applications could never hope to touch.
Have you tried out the Office Web Apps beta? Tell us about your experience below.