First impressions of Microsoft Office 2010 Web Apps

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First impressions of Microsoft Office 2010 Web Apps

Still a long way to go.

Microsoft has unveiled the Web Applications update to its Office 2010 technical preview, giving the first glimpse of the new cloud-based versions of the market-leading productivity suite.

We have been granted access to the preview [see screenshots, top right of page], enabling us to try out Microsoft's answer to Google Apps – here are our first impressions of the limited functionality version currently available.

To use Web Apps, the documents you are going to work on need uploading to a Windows Live SkyDrive account, where users have 25GB of storage space to work with.

The four applications enabled on the Web Apps preview are Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint and Word, but there are limitations on document creation and editing.

You can view any document using the Web Apps, but the "high-fidelity viewing " feature that shows how documents created and saved on users' desktop systems appear, will be available on Excel, PowerPoint and Word applications, but not yet on the OneNote application. The ability to publish documents to Windows Live Services has also not been implemented yet.

You can only edit and create documents using Excel and PowerPoint, and only in Excel will the co-authoring feature work, which allows multiple authors to update a spreadsheet.

We uploaded documents created with all four applications, and we could view application-specific documents with no problems encountered throughout our time using the preview. There was no significant delay between clicking the document for viewing and display, although admittedly the file sizes on the documents we used were not significant.

Initially, viewing a Word document showed that the text was not as clear as that seen with the desktop version of Word, but above the document came a message that installing Microsoft's Silverlight would improve matters. After installing Silverlight and refreshing the page there was a big improvement, making it almost indistinguishable from viewing a copy of the file in the desktop version of Word.

The preview also prompted us to download and install the Windows Live SkyDrive Upload ActiveX control called RichUpload, which Microsoft says improves upload speeds.

Trying to edit an Excel 97-2003 Workbook brought up an error message directing us to save to a supported format, which we did through the BackStage "Save As" menu option. Re-opening the file allowed us to edit it properly, with any changed data values in the workbook being immediately reflected in the chart we had displayed.

BackStage gives users options to open the file locally, save the file to SkyDrive, or download the file to the user's local system. We also had someone open the document simultaneously to check the co-authoring feature, which seemed to work correctly.

With the PowerPoint Web App, unlike Excel, we were given the option to convert to a PowerPoint 2007 format before continuing with the edit.

One useful feature that Microsoft may want to consider would be the option to synchronise recently edited files with users' local desktop storage.

Another useful feature would be a tool for synchronising files with any files users have stored in their Google Docs or Google Apps accounts, but we won't hold our breath.

Overall, this brief look at the preview showed the potential of using "light" versions of Office productivity applications accessible over the web, but even Microsoft admits there is a long way to go.

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