Microsoft launches first online Office app preview

Invite-only test available to 'thousands;' public beta to follow later this year

Microsoft today launched a limited beta test of its Office Web Apps, the company's first public unveiling of its rival for Google's Web applications.

Dubbed a "technical preview" by Microsoft to denote that it's by invitation only, Office Web Apps will be available on the company's Windows Live site via a special "Documents" tab, a company spokeswoman said. "Tens of thousands have been invited to participate in the Technical Preview," said the spokeswoman in a reply to questions.

"This is earlier than I expected," said Rob Helm, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash.-based research company that specializes in tracking Microsoft's moves. "I thought we wouldn't see this until the SharePoint conference at the end of October. Maybe the recent Google moves had some bearing on Microsoft's timing."

Helm's reference was to Google's announcement Tuesday that the search giant will offer online services next year, including Google Web Apps, that are specially designed for U.S. government agencies.

Office Web Apps includes lightweight, online versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, the desktop Office suite's word processor, spreadsheet and presentation maker, respectively. In July, Microsoft announced that the online applications would be available free-of-charge on Windows Live and to workers at companies with an Office Software Assurance plan. The online editions will also be available as a paid subscription service for firms that don't buy into Software Assurance.

Microsoft gave the three applications available in the preview their official titles today: Word Web App, Excel Web App and PowerPoint Web App.

Nick Simons, a Microsoft program manager for Office Web Apps, called the functionality of the online software "modest" today on a company blog . Initially, testers won't be able to edit Word documents online, only view them, although they can create, view and edit Excel worksheets and PowerPoint presentations.

OneNote Web App, a scaled-down version of Office's note taker, will be added later, Simons said.

Michael Schultz, Microsoft's director of marketing for Office, echoed Simons. "They aren't feature-complete yet," he acknowledged in a Q&A Microsoft created, and then posted, to its press site. "The OneNote Web App and additional Office Web App features, including further integration with Microsoft Office 2010, will be available at a later date."

Microsoft plans to open Office Web Apps to testing by the general public, but it has not set a date for that beta other than to that it will be available before the end of this year. Nor has the company slated a launch date for the online suite. It's expected, however, that Microsoft will unveil the final versions of the Web applications when it ships Office 2010 sometime in the first half of 2010.

Office Web Apps support Internet Explorer (IE) 7 and IE8; Firefox 3.5 on Windows, Mac and Linux; and Safari 4.0 on the Mac.

Microsoft's entry into the Web application space has been long in coming, and faces competition from the likes of Google and Zoho. Google, in fact, has made several recent moves to preempt Office Web Apps, including a sync service between its online software and Office's e-mail client, Outlook, as well as the promise Tuesday that it will tailor its Google Web Apps to fit the needs of federal government agencies.

"But Microsoft and Google see Web applications differently," argued Helm. "Google is trying to catch up with Microsoft's desktop applications, maybe cover 80 per cent of their functionality. But they've got a long ways to go.

"Microsoft is instead trying to promote an adjunct to Office to use when you're collaborating with people, and to handle some commenting and formatting, and maybe entering a little text," Helm continued. "Microsoft has a much narrower view of what Web apps are supposed to do. They're very carefully limiting the Web apps, so they really aren't a substitute for the desktop."

The technical preview is available only in English and Japanese; other language-specific versions will be rolled out this fall.

Users can add their name to a list for notification when the public beta is available on Microsoft's Office 2010 site.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags Office 2010Office Web AppsMicrosoft

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?