Microsoft isn't going to make its August deadline for delivery of a wide-scale test build of its Office Web Apps technology.
But officials told me they're close to delivering the promised Technical Preview test build of the four Webified Office apps that the company first demonstrated publicly last fall. A company spokesperson provided the following statement when I asked about the Web Apps' whereabouts yesterday:
"At Worldwide Partner Conference, we said the Office Web applications technical preview would tentatively be available in the August timeframe. While they will not be available by the end of August, we are still planning to release them soon."
For the record, when Microsoft officials told me about their self-imposed August deadline for the tech preview, the word "tentatively" wasn't used. The rest of the Office 2010 suite was released to thousands of testers in July as part of an invitation-only Tech Preview.
In May, a build of Office Web Apps leaked to the Web, along with the rest of the Office 2010 Tech Preview; Microsoft officials haven't answered when I asked whether that Web Apps build will be the same as the officially sanctioned one that is now looking like it will go to testers in September.
Office Web Apps is the working name for the Web-centric versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote that Microsoft is planning to release alongside the rest of Office 2010 when it ships in May/June 2010. Microsoft brass are positioning the Web Apps as being complementary to Office, not a replacement for the client-based productivity suite.
Microsoft officials have said there will be free and paid versions of Office Web Apps. Consumers will be able to get them for free via Windows Live. Software Assurance customers will have the added option of running the Office Web Apps on premise, accessing their on-premise SharePoint Servers. And Office Web Apps also will be accessible as part of some kind of Microsoft-hosted service/services (under the Microsoft Online brand).
Office Web Apps will work with PCs and devices running Internet Explorer 7 and 8, Firefox 3.5 on Windows, Mac and Linux and Safari 4 on Mac. I saw a demo of them running on a Windows Mobile phone when I was at the Worldwide Partner Conference, and Microsoft has said that they will run on unnamed mobile devices at some point. Users with Microsoft's Silverlight plug-in installed will see more Office Web Apps features "light up,"
Microsoft officials have been attempting to set expectations regarding Office Web Apps since first showing the product last year. Office Web Apps won't offer all the functionality of or look exactly like their client-based counterparts. They are designed for viewing and lightly editing Office documents, not creating them from scratch. But I think many users still are expecting Office Web Apps -- or whatever they ultimately are called -- to be head-to-head Google Docs/Apps competitors. It'll be interesting to see what testers think the Office Web Apps test build finally does hit....