Microsoft's Office Web Apps moving ahead with 'Gemini' wave

Microsoft is moving ahead with new features in its Office Web Apps -- a key piece of its devices and services corporate makeover -- with its 'Gemini' wave of deliverables.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Like the rest of the Microsoft Office unit, the Office Web Apps team seems to be on a path to deliver more new updates more frequently.


This week, the Web Apps team (which also internally goes by WAC, or Web Applications Companion) blogged about some of the new features coming to Office Web Apps "over the next year and beyond." These include official support for Chrome on Android tablets and real-time co-authoring (instead of "same-time" authoring), starting with PowerPoint Web App.

Microsoft officials also previously have said that Yammer integration will be coming to Office Web Apps, too, starting this fall. Specifically, the Softies said to expect integration of the Office Web Apps' editing/coediting of Word, PowerPoint and Excel documents with Yammer.

From an internal Microsoft roadmap I saw -- which I believe to have been current as of early this year -- the first wave of Microsoft's next Office Web App updates will be available around October 2013, as part of the Gemini 1 wave. Another set of updates to Office Web Apps will hit a year later, around October 2014 (Gemini 2).

Gemini is the codename for the coming wave of Microsoft Office updates, the first of which will coincide roughly with Windows Blue. The Gemini 1 wave will include new Metro-Style/Windows Store versions of Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint, according to my sources, in addition to some of the Office Web Apps. Microsoft officials are not commenting on anything having to do with Gemini.

Microsoft's Office Web Apps are the Webified versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote which Microsoft first introduced with Office 2010. Office Web Apps are usable in a variety of browsers -- including Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox and Safari -- on different operating systems and form factors (PCs, tablets, smartphones). Microsoft also built a version of Office Web Apps customized for Facebook which is called Office Docs

Office Web Apps include a subset of the functionality in the full Office versions of each of the apps. Microsoft released to the Web the most recent set of Office Web Apps updates in conjunction with Office 2013/Office 365 in October 2012.

Could there be an Office Web Apps-Nook connection?

Microsoft claimed last year to have 50 million active Office Web Apps users. But its goal, based on a job posting on the Microsoft Careers site, is to build out Office Web Apps to scale out to 100 million-plus users.

"The (Office) Web Apps organization is at the center of Office’s Software + Services transformation," the job posting noted. The job post also noted that the Office Web Apps team owns "vertical end-to-end scenarios related to collaboration and authoring in the Word Web App."

One of the vertical scenarios the Office honchos have said they would like to address with Office is education. I wouldn't be surprised to see Barnes & Noble figure into the equation here, given Microsoft's investment in the Nook Media subsidiary.

One of Nook Media's most profitable businesses involves its college business. And as Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch hinted last year, authoring/publishing scenarios are a place where there could be synergies between Microsoft Office and Nook. Last summer, Lynch told Fortune:

"(I)magine an integration where an information worker, student, author, consumer, creates something in Office and has it immediately published for sale through the Nook book store. It starts to open a lot of exciting possibilities."

For the time-being, however, neither Barnes & Noble or Nook Media offers Office-centric self-publishing tools. The recently introduced Nook Press tool doesn't support Office, as a Barnes & Noble spokesperson confirmed when I asked. 

The official statement: "At this time NOOK Press is a Barnes & Noble web based author publishing tool. At this time we do not have any immediate plans in integrating NOOK Press with Microsoft Office."

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