Microsoft Stars First Beta Office Web Apps: Is This the Future?

Google docs aren’t really popular yet, but it’s still a really unique service. It gives you the possibility of creating spreadsheets, presentations (project scope statement template is another really amazing and effective alternative that you can try), or simple text documents online without needing to install a certain application. It also gives you the option of saving your files online so there is no need for a backup! Of course, Microsoft couldn’t stay behind and they had to play copy cat. They have now started their beta test of Office Web Apps with limited access. A few ten thousand invited can try the ‘technical preview’ of the online office package. The service is accessible through Windows Live SkyDrive.

Microsoft has invited a limited group of people to try the beta of Windows Live SkyDrive, Microsoft’s online service to share files. Office Web Apps is a combination of three different elements, so far: Word Web App, Excel Web App, and PowerPoint Web App. These are all edited versions of the applications that are in the ‘normal office package’ for the desktop computer. Later on, Microsoft will also add OneNote Web App. A light version of OneNote. The applications make use of the ribbon-interface which is also applied in Office 2007.

Nick Simons, program manager for Office Web Apps with Microsoft, tells us on the official blog of the Office Web Apps team, that the functionality of the online office applications is still limited. But they are going to add more functions and possibilities in the future. Although the functionality of the online applications is limited, another Microsoft employee, Brian Hill, guarantees us on the Windows Live Wire blog that the layout and format of the documents will be preserved. He also says that Office Web Apps will be better integrated with the Office desktop package in the future. My conclusion out of that claim is that it’s not Microsoft’s plan to make a replacement for the usual package, but more addition to what they already offer.

The testers of the Beta can just view Word documents at first, but Excel and PowerPoint files can be viewed and changed. Multiple persons can edit the Excel documents at the same time and all the files can be shared with other users in the same ‘group’ thanks to the Windows Live Skydrive, a service that isn’t really popular yet either. Maybe with this new online office package, they try to give their online storage service a boost.

Office Web Apps will be free for Windows Live members and for employees of the companies that participate in the Microsoft Office Software Assurance program. Office Web Apps will be a paid service for the companies that don’t participate in this program.

It’s still not clear when the Beta will be open for the wide public, but with the coming of the released of Office 2010, the service will slowly be accessible for more users.