Microsoft recently provided a limited-access technical preview of its Office Web Apps suite. eWEEK Labs' tests so far show that the Office Web Apps suite, while studded with its fair share of tech preview warts, signals that Microsoft's counterattack on the online office encroachment of Google, Zoho and others is off to a solid start.
When Microsoft offered the public a first look at next year's Office 2010
upgrade, one of the suite's most compelling new features-Web-based versions of
Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote-wasn't yet available for testing.
Microsoft recently pulled back the curtain on its Office Web Apps in the
form of a limited-access technical preview, and according to eWEEK Labs' tests
so far, the Office Web Apps suite-while studded with its fair share of tech
preview warts-signals that Microsoft's counterattack on the online office
encroachment of Google, Zoho and others is off to a solid start.
Heading into my tests of Office Web Apps, I had seen enough demonstrations
of the applications to know that the Web versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint
look a lot like their desktop-bound brethren, complete with ribbon-based
interfaces and desktop-quality document rendering.
What remained to be seen was how much of the desktop functionality would
carry over to the Web versions, and how well Microsoft would deliver on its
promise to diverge from its Internet-Explorer-first Web application development
policies. Microsoft has said that its Office Web Apps will perform as well on
Apple's Safari and Mozilla's Firefox Web browsers as it will on Microsoft's own
If Microsoft's new online office offering combines a feature set that's
large enough to satisfy most users' needs with the browser support matrix the
company has promised, Office Web Apps will open new doors for Office while
making it significantly easier for organizations to support a mix of different
desktop operating systems without giving up the applications they're accustomed
Based on my tests so far, I've found that Microsoft has done a good job on
the cross-platform part of the puzzle. I conducted the bulk of my testing on
Firefox 3.5.3 running on Ubuntu Linux, and found that Web Apps performed about
as well on this foreign-to-Microsoft environment as they did on IE 8 running on
Windows XP and Windows 7. I also tested Web Apps using Google's Chromium Web
browser, which Microsoft does not explicitly support but that hosted Office Web
Apps quite well.
As for whether the range of features in Office Web Apps is broad enough to
enable organizations to get their work done online, it's a bit too early to
tell. At this stage, Web Apps clearly deserves the technical preview label:
Word is view-only, PowerPoint supports basic edits with several grayed-out
features, and various other snags and bugs abound.
Judging from the capabilities I've seen so far, the Office Web Apps suite
should serve well as a tool for document sharing, viewing and light
collaboration. The set of features available so far should be sufficient for
some document creation tasks, but I'd like to see Microsoft continue to add
muscle to these online office applications. Also, I would like to see Microsoft
embrace a solution for enabling browser-based offline access and editing of
Office Web Apps documents that's as supportive of multiple browser and
operating system platforms as the online applications are.
As Editor in Chief of eWEEK Labs, Jason Brooks manages the Labs team and is responsible for eWEEK's print edition. Brooks joined eWEEK in 1999, and has covered wireless networking, office productivity suites, mobile devices, Windows, virtualization, and desktops and notebooks. Jason's coverage is currently focused on Linux and Unix operating systems, open-source software and licensing, cloud computing and Software as a Service. Follow Jason on Twitter at jasonbrooks, or reach him by email at email@example.com.