Microsoft's updated Office Web Apps: What's new

Microsoft has made available to the public test versions of its Webified versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote as part of the coming new version of its Office suite.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Yet another of the pieces of the coming wave of new Office client, server and services updates that went to public beta this week is Office Web Apps. Microsoft execs blogged on July 20 about some of the new features in the Customer Preview version of these apps.


Microsoft's Office Web Apps are 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). Office Web Apps include a subset of the functionality in the full Office versions of each of the apps. Microsoft claims to have 50 million active users accessing these apps every month. (It's not clear exactly what counts as "usage" here; is it simply opening a Word document without editing or collaborating?)
With the Office 2013 wave, Microsoft is adding more features to each of the Office Web Apps. The dev team focused on four areas across the Office Web Apps suite, according to Mike Morton, Group Program Manager for Office Web Apps (who authored today's blog post). The four focus areas: improved document authoring; better touch support; co-authoring across all four apps (with simultaneous co-authoring enabled except in Excel Web App); and better performance.
Among some of the new features in the Customer Preview:
Word Web App: Better layout tools, allowing users to change the page size, orientation, margins, paragraph spacing, indentation, etc. Also more granular control over pictures and shapes. Word count calculation added
PowerPoint Web App: Ability to author animations and transitions inside the app. More responsive drawing tool support and more granular control over pictures and shapes. Ability to display videos in PowerPoint Web App. Slideshows also now will show movies
Excel Web App: Support for PivotTable editing, Query Tables and richer charts, among other data-analysis enhancements
OneNote Web App: New "find" textbox added to navigation pane
Across the suite of Web Apps: Improvement in speed in typing, selecting, formatting in larger documents. Right click/context-sensitive menus now supported in more places. Better copy/paste, improved undo, and the ability to print in Excel

There's also a new Office Web Apps Server that is part of SharePoint 2013, as some of my sources indicated earlier this year. Today's blog post on the new Office Web Apps didn't drill down into this new component.
To test the latest version of Office Web Apps, users can either use this link to gain access to the Customer Preview via  SkyDrive or install the new Office 365 Home Premium Preview, which is the new consumer-focused cloud-connected version of Office 2013.

Microsoft officials have declined to say when Office 2013, the new Office servers and updated Office 365 services that are part of "Wave 15" will be released to manufacturing and made generally available. I'm hearing RTM is looking like November 2012, with general availability in February 2013.

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