Microsoft Unveils Office Web Apps Preview

Microsoft has commenced an invitation-only public technical preview of Microsoft Office Web Apps.

The invitees were a "select group of SkyDrive customers," according to the Windows Live blog. SkyDrive is part of Microsoft's Windows Live online service offerings and provides a hosted space for storing and sharing files. The public technical preview was announced Thursday.

Those who didn't get an invitation can get a notification from Microsoft when the public beta of Office Web Apps is released by filling out a form here. Currently, Office Web Apps can be tested in English and Japanese, but Microsoft plans to add other language versions some time in the fall.

The hosted apps that Microsoft unveiled Thursday include Excel Web App, PowerPoint Web App and Word Web App. All are lightweight Web versions of the applications found in the traditionally premises-installed Microsoft Office productivity suite. Office Web Apps will integrate with installed Office versions from Office 2003 onward.

When the Office Web Apps are released as a final product, users will be able to save documents to the Web directly from the desktop-installed Office suite.

Microsoft hasn't yet added all of the features to the test versions of Office Web Apps. For instance, testers will be limited to viewing and sharing Word documents for the time being. However, testers of Excel Web App and PowerPoint Web App will also be able to create and edit documents online.

Office Web Apps run in the browser and retain the same formatting and attributes seen in the desktop app, according to a video presentation in the Windows Live blog post. Supported browsers include Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari. The apps work across both PC and Mac platforms.

Users can collaborate on the same document using Office Web Apps and changes will sync across the Internet, appearing in near-real time without refreshing the browser. Office Web Apps use the same Fluent Ribbon user interface that Microsoft first introduced in Office 2007.

Office Web Apps will be an adjunct to Microsoft Office 2010, which is scheduled for general release in the first half of next year. They integrate "seamlessly" with Windows Live via SkyDrive, allowing editing, collaboration and document sharing. Microsoft eventually plans to make Office Web Apps available to its "500 million+ users of Hotmail, Messenger and other Windows Live services," according to the blog.

For business users, Microsoft plans to offer Office Web Apps through volume licensing with Microsoft SharePoint Server as the on-premises hosting option. Alternatively, businesses will be able to access Office Web Apps on a subscription basis through Microsoft Online Services.

Microsoft didn't include the OneNote Web App in this public preview but indicated in a press release that it would be "available at a later date."

After beta testing, Microsoft plans to release "feature-complete" Office Web Apps in the first half of next year.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor, Enterprise Group, at 1105 Media Inc.

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