Microsoft unveils web Office preview

Microsoft has unveiled a technical preview of its newly christened Microsoft Office Web Apps services.
Written by Simon Bisson, Contributor

Microsoft has unveiled a technical preview of its newly christened Microsoft Office Web Apps services.


The web version of Microsoft Excel
(Credit: Microsoft)

The preview is an early first look, according to Office client product manager Chris Adams, who told ZDNet.com.au sister site ZDNet UK that the release was "by no means feature complete".

The technical preview was released on Thursday to a limited group of users, with a public beta due later in the year. Promised functionality that is missing from the preview includes cloud-mediated collaboration features — only Excel will support co-authoring for now, and only in the browser.

Out of the Web Apps, Excel and PowerPoint are the only Web Apps in the preview that allow the user to edit documents, leaving Word with only a viewer. According to Adams, "the goal with the first release of Web Apps was really to provide lightweight editing functionality and a high-fidelity viewing experience".

Files are stored in Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud storage service, which gives users 25GB of storage. Applications have a similar look and feel to the desktop Office suite, featuring the familiar ribbon user interface and the same icons. Excel has many of the formatting features shown in the desktop Office technical preview, such as Sparklines, while the Word viewer includes in-line search tools.

The Web Apps are cross-platform, running as HTML and JavaScript in both Internet Explorer and Firefox. There is the prospect of added Silverlight features, but these will, according to Adams, "light up the document viewing experience" with improved panning and scrolling, rather than adding features.

The versions released today are not the same as the SharePoint-hosted tools intended for enterprises. These remain under a veil of secrecy, with a closed trial programme and a very different set of features from the Office Web Apps, which are targeted at consumers and small businesses.

Adams cautioned users not to expect web-timescale updates during the Web Apps technical preview, and said it is still undecided whether the release versions will get regular improvements because of the impact on synchronisation with hosted SharePoint apps.

While Google Docs is a pure cloud service that can be updated whenever Google wants, Microsoft needs to keep its Office Web Apps in sync with the private-cloud versions running on SharePoint — which might not be as easy or as economical for IT managers to keep updated.

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