LABS GALLERY: Office Web Apps Preview Brings Microsoft's Productivity Flagship to Firefox and Linux

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LABS GALLERY: Office Web Apps Preview Brings Microsoft's Productivity Flagship to Firefox and Linux

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Logging In

Microsoft's Office Web Apps will eventually be available in ad-supported Windows Live and hosted or on-premises paid versions. For this Tech Preview, Microsoft provided access to the Windows Live version, which meant mortgage ads at log-on. No such ads appeared with the Apps themselves, however.

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My Documents

I accessed the Office Web Apps through the My Documents folder in the SkyDrive of my Windows Live test account.

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New Document

From within the My Documents folder, I could create new files, upload existing ones or access files already stored in the SkyDrive.

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No Word Editing Yet

For now, Word is view-only, and OneNote isn't accessible at all, so attempts to create either of those file types bring up this "We're working on it" screen.

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Add Files

I uploaded a Windows Server reviewer guide to try out the online Word document viewing. I was pleased to see that where Google limits word processing documents to 500KB, Microsoft accepts uploads of up to 50MB.

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Backstage-ish View

Each document in the SkyDrive gets a summary page somewhat reminiscent of the Backstage view in Office 2010. If an Office Web App isn't able to edit or view a document, you can still comment on it and download it to your computer.

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View Word Documents

When I opened my uploaded Word document for viewing, the Word Web App promised improved performance and rendering if I installed Silverlight. I conducted most of my tests on Firefox and Linux and tried installing Novell's Moonlight plugin to enjoy the promised Silverlight goodness, but it didn't appear to make any difference.

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TOC Links

My document rendered nicely, and I was able to scroll through with ease. I also found that the document links embedded in the TOC worked properly.

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Copy and Paste

I tried copying text from the document into a note-taking application on my desktop—the content came across, but, as I might have expected, I lost the formatting.

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Document Search

For Office 2010, Word is picking up a very handy document search sidebar, which the Web version of Word mimics quite well.

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Document Zoom

I could zoom in and out of the document in more or less the same way as with the desktop-based version of Word.

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No Help Yet

There's a button for accessing online help, but the help content is not yet in place—par for the course for an early tech preview release.

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Open in Word (On Linux)

I wondered whether I could click the "Open in Word" button and access my document from, but I wasn't surprised when this didn't work. However, I wasn't able to open Word (or Excel or PowerPoint) documents on Windows XP or 7 machines running Office 2007 or 2010, either.

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No ODT Support

Office 2010 boasts support for the OpenDocument standard, but this support does not, at this point, carry over to Office Web Apps. I could upload an ODT document, but I could not view or edit it.

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No Edit Support for XLS

I uploaded a spreadsheet saved in Microsoft's binary XLS format, and I could view it without a problem. To edit the spreadsheet, however, I had to convert it to the XML-based XLSX format.

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Excel Editing

With my spreadsheet duly converted, I was presented with a trimmed down ribbon and a subset of the editing features available in the desktop-based version of Excel. On my Firefox/Linux machine, the bottom of the ribbon appeared slightly truncated.

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Excel Options

I could choose from a small set of save and download options.

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Open in Excel

Clicking the Open in Excel button spawned this dialog, which gave me the option of opening my spreadsheet locally in read only or edit modes.

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Wouldnt Open in Excel

However, I wasn't able to actually open the document in Excel. I tried combinations of XP and Windows 7 with Office 2007 and 2010, but couldn't get it to work. I chalked the issues up to alpha-level software bugs.

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Download Did Work

I was able to download my documents to my test machines, edit them with Office or, and upload them back to the SkyDrive for further viewing or editing.

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Formula Writing

,br/>I added a simple formula to one of my spreadsheets, and the feature worked as expected.

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How to Fill?

However, I couldn't figure out how to auto-fill my newly written formula across all the cells in the relevant column.

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Conditional Formatting

I headed back to a copy of Excel 2010 running on a Windows XP VM to auto-fill those cells, and opted to add some of Office 2010's handsome new conditional formatting to a pair of my columns.

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File Corrupt

I uploaded my spreadsheet back to the SkyDrive, but the Excel Web App wouldn't open it, complaining of file corruption.