High Hopes for Office Web Apps

With Microsoft Office Web Applications, the productivity suite will have a real web-facing side for the first time. It will be released alongside Office 2010 and will be supported by all major browsers, including Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer, Apple Safari and Google Chrome. Anticipations and stakes for this release are high and I personally think it’s going to sweep current online productivity suites like Google Docs right off the table. Yes, I have extreme high hopes for Office Web Apps. And perhaps you should too.

Feature Set

While not much is known about the real specifics of the online Office suite, it is certain that the traditional desktop software applications like Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote will certainly be represented in the online version of Microsoft Office.

Microsoft describes the suite as online siblings for its Office applications. They will be “lightweight versions of the applications from the desktop product”. According to the General Manager of the Office-project, users of the web applications will be able to “view, edit, and collaborate” on Office documents. The web-version of Office will also, most importantly, retain document fidelity to the fullest, allowing a user to view documents in full quality online, make alterations and save it again (online or off) without loss of quality. This is stellar functionality lacking currently in allĀ  online productivity suites.

Google Docs – as a common example – incorporates support for Microsoft Office documents in rather shoddy way. After you upload your files – frankly – they become half-assed HTML variations of the originating document. Microsoft’s solution promises to retain all of the rich formatting, lay-outs, styling, charts, transitions and image quality.

This is obviously a big improvement over any of the current implementations. And it’s one with far-reaching ramifications.

High Hopes

If you have ever sampled an online productivity suite like Google Docs you instantly realize what a step back it actually is from Microsoft Office 2007. It’s slow and feature-impaired. In Google Docs’ case it feels more like a old Office 2003 replica, with the toolbar UI bringing back bad memories with every click. Support for pretty fonts and advanced page layout capabilities are simply neglected. There isn’t anything significant implemented around text styling, nor is the revisioning system in GDocs very much impressive. If we’re honest here, it’s a downright fluke. In my opinion, Google Docs is more reminiscent of an advanced WYSIWYG-editor for blogging purposes, rather than an online word processor. And it’s not even decently apt at producing the aforementioned blog posts, since the HTML it outputs is extremely semantics unfriendly.

Microsoft’s solution, however, could be a game-changer. It will feature the ribbon interface, albeit it less feature-rich, because some functionality simply doesn’t belong in a browser. It will support many of Office’s advanced presentational niceties, though. Couple this to the online storage we’ll be getting with Office Live and true cloud computing starts to show its colors.

Reduced Functionality

I talked about reduced functionality, but don’t let that scare you. The online version of Office will be feature-limited to the degree that the most used functionality will remain present. And since most Office-users only utilize a small percentage of the full suite’s feature-set, I don’t think there will be problems with using Office in its reduced form through Office Web Applications.

To me, this is all very exciting, but I realize I should reserve judgment until I can get my hands on it for some real experience. But what’s a geek to do? I just can’t help myself. Microsoft’s introduction of the ribbon interface to its Office line was big. And so will this be. I sure can’t wait to check it out.

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2 thoughts on “High Hopes for Office Web Apps

  1. Given that Office Web Apps are also 100% Javascript (notwithstanding the optional use of Silverlight), there is a good chance that Microsoft will face the same issues as Google during roundtripping across the desktop and browser (since they need to convert the Office format to HTML too – “half assed” or otherwise!It will definitely be interesting to see if they have handled this more elegantly than the likes of Google…but given Microsoft's track record with web apps, probably better not to get your hopes up too high at this point!Cheers,Sumanth

  2. Paul Thurrott seems to be enthusiastic about Office Web Apps. I tend tobelieve him. And he's pretty much the only one with hands-on experience,too.

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