Office Web Apps Tech Preview Begins

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The big news this week was definitely the start of the Microsoft Office Web Apps Technical Preview program. As of Thursday, September 17th, a limited number of participants received access to the new web-based version of Microsoft Office, which includes web apps for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.

The tech blogosphere was, of course, all over this and the launch got not one, not two, but three headlines on the tech news aggregator And under each headline were tons of links for related discussions. While the majority of the blog posts were either just reporting the news or focused on reviews of what can be done with the applications (complemented by numerous screenshots), what I found more interesting were reading through the opinions from the few bloggers who dared to give one. They were actually rather good! Here’s a small sample:

TechCrunch: “There’s no doubt that the web-based apps are impressive. And the ability to seamlessly switch between the desktop and web versions is key, and one that Google currently can’t compete with. But one of the important innovations that Microsoft has made in this consumer-facing version is the sharing and collaborative features, which are certainly the future of any professional applications suite.”

ComputerWorld: “…in my initial look at it, I can say it's a visually richer experience than Google Docs, and looks and feels very much like using Office, but on the Web rather than via a client.”

CNET: (Quoting Forrester analyst Sheri McLeish) McLeish noted that Office offers a depth not found in its online rivals. "Once you are in the Web Apps the experience is very much the same as the desktop suite," McLeish said. "And for enterprises, deployment choices to host the Web Apps themselves on-premise is a big differentiator from Google and Zoho."

It’s likely that many of the bloggers want to spend more time with the applications before really giving their full opinions. Or perhaps they weren’t comfortable with opining on the Tech Preview considering that it launched with several features disabled. (It currently only allows viewing of Word documents, for example, no editing or collaboration just yet. Also, OneNote hasn’t even launched yet). However, it’s promising to read through these early first impressions which seem to confirm that this is indeed a richer online office suite than anything else we’ve ever seen before.

If you haven’t gotten access yet, you may want to check your SkyDrive account. If you haven’t already, upload a document to your online drive and see if you get a message informing you about the Tech Preview. I did! (LiveSide has detailed instructions).

The message looks like this:



If you’re one of the lucky few, just click through on the link provided and accept the license agreement on the following page. After doing so, you’ll be in and can start creating, editing, and collaborating right away. The experience is, as reported, truly incredible. If it weren’t for the Windows Live banner at the top of the page, it would be hard to tell that you were even working on the web as opposed to in a desktop software program. This is no dumbed-down office suite, to be sure. It’s the closest thing to a full-fledged desktop app ported to the web than anything else I’ve ever seen.

Of course, Office Web Apps are still in a Tech Preview stage, so everything won’t be 100% functional and the Office team is still looking for feedback, bug reports, etc. However, it’s a great first start and has us excited for the full versions which will be coming soon.

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