Office finally heads online as Microsoft previews the first browser-based version of its suite, to be formally known as Office Web Apps.
Office used to be one of Microsoft’s cash cows, but now it’s more about playing catch-up to Google and the era of online apps.
Microsoft took its most serious step into that game this week with the release of a ‘technical preview’ edition for its Office Web Apps.
That’s the official name for the browser-based components of Office 2010, which like the parent suite are set to debut in the first half of next year.
But the invitation-only program is very much a rough-around-the-edges beta. While the finished suite will include lightweight versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, only the first three are ready for testing.
Furthermore, Word can only view documents – leaving Excel and PowerPoint as the only apps offering the ability create and edit online documents.
A second broader public beta test is slated for later this year, which will hopefully add fully functional Word and OneNote apps to the bundle.
The Excel Web App is a pared-down version of the full version, although several of the handier features remain
The document format used by each app is the XML-based spec introduced in Office 2007 such as DOCX, XLSX and PPTX.
Microsoft pledges that the apps will run in competing Web browsers outside its own Internet Explorer.
“Consumers want choice and the ability to work across different devices, browsers and platforms during the day” says Michael Schultz, director of marketing for Microsoft Office Services. “We’re making the Office Web Apps accessible across PCs and Macs, and available using Internet Explorer, Firefox or Safari.”
However, while the apps will be available for free, Microsoft will position them as an obvious companion to Office 2010, even though Schultz promises “seamless integration between Office Web Apps and Microsoft Office versions 2003 and later”.
However, users of the Office 2003 will need to install the necessary add-on pack to be able to open and save the XML-based documents of Office 2007.
Office Web Apps will be available to users of Windows Live with storage on the Windows Live SkyDrive service (this is how the technical preview program is being run, with each tester getting 25GB of storage).
Businesses signing up for a volume licence for Office 2010 will also be able to host Office Web Apps on their own SharePoint Server.