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Office Web Apps: Set to showdown with Google Apps

Posted in Applications and User Interfaces by Manas Ganguly on May 12, 2010

Microsoft enhances the mobility of Office applications with the launch of Office 2010 challenging the might of Google in the Online office apps space. Here’s a quick peek at Office Web Apps.

The battle between Google and Microsoft for the online applications market intensified further with the launch of Office 2010, signalling Microsoft’s biggest pitch yet for this burgeoning area of the software market. A vital part of Microsoft’s online push is the Office Web Apps (OWA) element of the suite. OWA consists of versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote that can be accessed via a browser, but are being spun by Microsoft as complementary to the full Office 2010, rather than replacing it. This can be seen by the way in which Microsoft is providing access to the Web Apps; business customers deploy them via Sharepoint, and the rights to use them come only with the volume licensed editions of the Office 2010 Office Standard and Office Professional Plus. Consumers will be able to access the applications from June via Windows Live, assuming they have a Windows Live ID. In Microsoft’s vision, the Web Apps will be used to quickly view documents while searching for the required one on a Sharepoint portal, or provide an emergency fallback if the full-blown Office suite is not available. For this reason, the Office Web Apps have limited functionality compared with the full client versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.

For example, the Word Web App doesn’t let user edit or insert tables. The Excel Web App also doesn’t let you create charts, but if the user changes any of the cell values, existing charts will reflect the update. Microsoft said that for the most part, documents will display in the Web Apps exactly as they would look in Office 2010.

Google’s apps mostly have greater functionality than their Microsoft counterparts, which largely have just basic editing and formatting functions. While the Web Apps only support Microsoft’s Office Open XML file formats, users can view files created using Office 2003 or earlier, and attempting to open one will give an option to the user to convert it to the newer format.

The good news is that the apps are cross-platform, and have been designed to work in other browsers such as Firefox, or even Apple’s Safari, according to Microsoft. Office Web Apps do seem to be best regarded as an extension of Office 2010 rather than a replacement for it. Consumers seeking basic tools to create and view documents may be satisfied with these capabilities once the Web Apps become available in Windows Live, but business users should expect to still purchase the full Office suite.


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