Looking more closely at Office Web Apps

Microsoft finally released a test version of its web-based Office apps. Well, sort of. The new Office Web Apps are incomplete and not exactly what you might have expected. That’s especially true if you’ve already used Google Docs or Zoho or another web-based office program.

Over at ZDNet, I’ve put together a quick look at the technology: A close-up look at the new Office Web Apps. It includes a screenshot gallery as well, so you can see the programs in action.

Office Web Apps screen gallery

My initial reaction was disappointment, but the more I think about (and use) the online apps, the more I believe I understand what Microsoft is trying to accomplish. There’s a clear dividing line in the design of the desktop and web-based products. The desktop products include every imaginable feature and are fully customizable as well. Microsoft assumes that this is where you’ll want to work most of the time if you’re a knowledge worker whose job involves organizing and presenting information.

The Office Web Apps, by contrast, are optimized for reading, reviewing, sharing, and making minor corrections, not for advanced formatting or creation of complex documents. In a way, it’s unfair to compare the Office Web Apps to their competitors (not that that will stop anyone) because Google, Zoho, et al. don’t have a corresponding desktop product to offer. Those are pure browser-based products. If you need a feature, it has to be in the web-based program or it doesn’t exist.

Clearly, it would be impossible to put every feature of every Office program in a web-based alternative. The question is where you draw the line. I think Microsoft has drawn the line too aggressively on the side of simple. You can’t create a chart in the Excel Web App? I understand not being able to add drop shadows to a chart, or to customize data points with legends, or to add animation to the bars in a bar chart so they reveal one by one in a PowerPoint presentation. But no charting capabilities at all? That’s just wrong.

Anyway, go take a look and let me know what you think.

7 thoughts on “Looking more closely at Office Web Apps

  1. “The desktop products include every imaginable feature and are fully customizable as well”

    That is not so true for Office 2007, watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tl9kD693ie4 (10 parts). The emphasis on Office 2007 is that it is NOT customizable. Ribbons are where they are, and that’s the big novelty of Office 2007.

    I agree with you otherwise 🙂

  2. If nothing else Office Web Apps (the Click-to-Run standalone version) will let Microsoft get rid of Works once and for all on consumer PC’s. That will save the OEM’s and MS money in the near term.

  3. Joe, by “fully customizable” I mean that all the major Office apps allow developers to build add-ins to perform additional functions.

  4. I think it’s way too early to be making any calls about how much they do. It’s tech preview stage now, and it’s not even remotely close to a complete

    Has there been any Microsoft product in their entire history that has been feature complete at the tech preview stage?

  5. L, I’ve had several briefings on this technology from Microsoft. I don’t believe there are significant new features to be added except the ones I’ve mentioned (publishing to a blog, enabling editing in Word, etc.).

  6. So, let’s say hypothetically that Microsoft was to add one big feature in each app before release, what feature would you like it to be?

    1. Well, for the two apps that currently allow editing, it would be the ability to add charts in Excel, and the ability to assign transitions in PowerPoint. Both seem like essentials that are sorely missing.

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