Microsoft Plans to (Finally) Launch Web Office Suite

By Josh Catone
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There have been rumors of a Microsoft web office suite since 2006, when Google released its web-based office application suite, Docs. Generally, rumors have surrounded the possibility of an ad supported, rich Internet application version of Microsoft’s slimmer Works product suite. None of those whispers have come to anything, though, and Microsoft’s web office strategy has become increasingly muddled.

There is Office Online, where users can download templates for Microsoft Office products, there is Office Live Workspace, where users can store and share files, there is Office Live Small Business, where small businesses can create a web presence, and there are Groove and SharePoint, consumer and enterprise products (respectively) that allow users to collaborate using Microsoft products. None of those, however, is an online office suite that is made to specifically compete with Google Docs.

Today in Los Angeles at Microsoft’s annual Professional Developers Conference all that changed, however. Microsoft announced that it will offer Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote — the components of the Student and Teacher version of Office — as web applications. The company describes the coming web office suite as a “lightweight” version of their current Office lineup that will compliment the desktop versions and fit into their vision of software + services.

For consumers, web apps will be delivered via Office Live, said Microsoft Business Division SVP Chris Capossela, who hinted that there would be both free ad-supported and paid versions. For business users, Office web applications will be delivered as a hosted subscription service.

The web apps will have an interface similar to the newer 2007 Windows version of Office, with a variation on the “ribbon” navigation schema. Screenshots that were released this morning of Office running in the browser indicate an almost identical user experience. The application will supposedly be cross platform, and will work in IE, Firefox, and Safari. An unverified comment on a post at ReadWriteWeb indicates that the online versions will be created using “100% HTML+AJAX” rather than Silverlight. We’d assume the back end will be .NET.

Microsoft is expected to release a limited technology preview of the new online version of Office later this year.

We just recently reported that the real threat to Microsoft Office may come from open source, which is a desktop alternative, rather than Google Docs. The key takeaway is that most users aren’t ready for a full web based suite. However, Microsoft is clearly feeling pressure from both sides, and Google Docs is getting better every day. It makes sense for Microsoft to finally act and start pushing out web-based versions of their most popular products. Software may take years to migrate fully to the SaaS model, but that is clearly where the winds are blowing.

PDC has marked a major sea change for Microsoft. With the announcement yesterday of Windows Azure, the Microsoft cloud computing platform, and with the announcement of a web-based version of Office today, Microsoft has clearly transitioned to the Ray Ozzie era, where competing online is the number one priority. The future at Microsoft is clearly the software + services vision.

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  • ionix5891


  • I actually like google docs better than exel. Im not a big office user myself but see this as a great step for Microsoft.

  • W2ttsy

    Hopefully having to develop a public facing RIA will demonstrate to MS how craptastic IE really is. Surely there will be many people at Redmond asking “WTH is this rubbish?!”.

    With software support for IE6 officially cut off, it will be interesting to see if MS even develop a IE6 compatible version, or go the way of FaceBook and offer a “decreased performance” version or no version at all.

  • Update: Microsoft clarified in an email that these apps will use HTML and AJAX, but also Silverlight components.

    Update 2: For a contrary view on use of Silverlight, see Matthew Holloway’s comment below (comment #19), in which he says that “SilverLight apps on OSX and Linux are typically second-class citizens to SilverLight on Windows.”

  • The Ghost

    very nice

    but does it open and save with MS Office extinsions like .doc , .ppt

  • I just wish MS online office shouldn’t impose these upload constraints created by Google Docs

    Documents (up to 500KB)

    Presentations (up to 10MB from your computer, 2MB from the web, 500KB via email)

    Spreadsheets (up to 1MB)

    PDF Files (up to 10MB from your computer, 2MB from the web)

    May be they can lift this up to compete in market !

    Anyways for Microsoft lovers someone like me – this is Good news !

  • Sigh .. yet another application that can’t be bothered to provide support for Opera.

    But it’s all academic anyway, since I don’t trust them to store my data privately and securely.

  • MiamiWebDesigner

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    Bruce Arnold, Miami Web Designer