Microsoft Improves Office Web Apps

Microsoft on Thursday announced some new milestones for its browser-based Office Web Applications.

The applications, which are simplified versions of Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint and Word that run in supported Web browsers, have been used by more than 20 million people since launch, according to Microsoft's announcement. The free Office Web Apps, which were rolled out in June, already can be accessed in the United States and Canada. They are available in English, French and Spanish languages.

On Thursday, Microsoft announced an expanded availability. Office Web Apps are being rolled out to seven additional countries, including Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Russia and Switzerland.

Microsoft used survey data of Office Web users and found that the majority of them create Word documents. Overwhelmingly, those documents are created first on premises-installed Microsoft Office software and then uploaded to SkyDrive, which is a 25 GB storage and document-sharing space in the Internet cloud that Microsoft offers to users for free.

Office Web App users can now embed Excel spreadsheets or PowerPoint presentations on the Web. The Office Web Apps create the code to be copied and pasted to a Web page. Once the embedded apps are running, those documents can be interactive for site visitors. For instance, viewers visiting a Web site can add data to an embedded Excel spreadsheet and see the results calculated online. In addition, document creators can alter a spreadsheet or presentation offline, and those changes will automatically be synced and uploaded to the embedded online version.

The new features were demonstrated by Evan Lew, senior product manager for Office Web Apps, in a Microsoft-produced video. Lew said that Office Web App users also get access to more than 200,000 royalty-free photos and graphics from that can be used on Web pages. He showed that embedded Excel sheets now enable formulas to be copied across a row or column. PowerPivot tables can also be produced online in embedded Excel spreadsheets.

Another feature for Word Web App users is that printing can now be done from the edit mode, rather than just from the view mode. Documents on the user's desktop can now be opened from SkyDrive.

Office Web Apps are free to consumer users who have signed up for a Windows Live ID, but Microsoft has a different concept for business users. Businesses need licenses for Microsoft Office and SharePoint or they can use the free SharePoint Foundation. Alternatively, organizations need to subscribe to a service from Microsoft or its partners to have access to Office Web Apps. Microsoft describes some of those details in footnotes here.

Office Web Apps will work in conjunction with installed Office productivity suites, enabling both offline and online editing, storage and access to documents. The installed Office versions that will work with Office Web Apps include Office 2003 and more current editions running on Windows.

Microsoft has also announced that Office for Mac 2011, expected to be released late next month, will have support for Office Web Apps. The Mac version will not include OneNote, however.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.