A Closer Look at Office Web Apps in Windows Live

1346.office2010_1656e96a News If you’ve been following the tech world lately, Office Web Apps Technical Preview is officially released to selected testers within Windows Live SkyDrive today. (And yes, that is the official name now, so much for trying to find a new “cooler” name for it before.) At the moment, it only supports English and Japanese languages, but it is expected that more languages will be available by the time it’s released. Office Web Apps make full use of the 25GB of storage space in SkyDrive, and thus makes it completely separate from Office Live Workspace. However, it is anticipated that Office Live Workspace will be replaced by Office Web Apps by the time it gets released.

One thing to note for this Technical Preview release is that testers can only create and edit files using Excel and PowerPoint Web Apps – documents can only be viewed in the Word Web App, but you won’t be able to create or edit them in this release. Additionally, OneNote files won’t be available to be viewed nor edited until a later release, despite it being available in the “New” menu in SkyDrive:

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On the note of compatibility, Office Web Apps supports Internet Explorer 7.0 or above, Firefox 3.5 or above, Safari 4, and Google Chrome browsers (Opera is not supported). At the moment, Office Web Apps does not support Safari on the iPhone or iPod touch, although mobile support will be coming in later releases. In the Technical Preview release, you cannot open or save documents directly to and from Windows Live from within the applications yet, although they should be supported when the beta gets released. This release also won’t allow you to publish the files stored on SkyDrive to a blog or a website, although this feature will be turned on in the final release.

You should take note that Office Web Apps only supports editing of Office 2007/2010 documents (.pptx, .docx, .xlsx), Office 97-2003 documents (.ppt, .doc, .xls) can only be viewed by the Web Apps. When you try to edit these documents you’ll be prompted to convert to the latest format:

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Now we shall take a look at the individual Web Apps:

Excel Web App

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I have to say, in this Technical Preview release, the most interesting Web App have to be Excel, mainly because it’s the only Web App to support simultaneous co-authoring at the moment (OneNote to be the other Web App to support this in the future):

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However, sadly the Excel Web App is also the only Web App (out of the 3 available) that still carries the old “File” menu that has the Office logo (the logo is supposed to have been replaced by the word “File” instead in the newer versions of Office 2010), and because of this, the ribbon is also missing the “View” tab (refer to this press release image that shows the newer ribbon in Excel Web App) and users cannot “pop-out” the Web App to a separate full-screen window. This should be fixed by the next release though.

Excel Web App’s ribbon currently supports only the most basic Excel functionalities, including text and cell formatting, inserting a Table, and also adding in Excel formulas and functions. It doesn’t yet support inserting charts, conditional formatting, Sparklines, data bars, scales and icons from within the Web App, however the Web App is perfectly capable of viewing these features (if you upload an Excel file that already have these) and they be updated in real-time when you change the cell data within the Web App.

The Excel Web App doesn’t have a Save button (although it has a Save As option to create a copy of the spreadsheet in your SkyDrive folder), as the spreadsheet is automatically saved in the background as you (or  your co-author) are editing the document. The File menu also allow you to download a snapshot of the workbook or download the file to your computer directly from within the Web App, but too bad it doesn’t yet support printing from the Web App though:

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PowerPoint Web App

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In this release, PowerPoint Web App is the only other Web App that allows you to edit the file, although unlike the Excel Web App, PowerPoint Web App does not allow two or more persons to co-author the document at the same time, and doing so will return an error message stating that the file is currently locked by another person.

The PowerPoint Web App seems to have taken advantage of Silverlight to render and display the presentation slides. In viewing mode, you can click “Start Slideshow” to let it open in a full-screen window. The Web App displays the PowerPoint slides almost exactly compared to when you’re viewing them in the client application (you can see the reflections and 3D effects as shown in the screenshot below). However, it doesn’t seem to like slide transition effects much, and it seems to render all transition effects as “fade”:

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When in edit mode, the PowerPoint Web App features basic text editing and formatting, and users are able to insert, duplicate, delete and hide slides from within the Web App. Users are also able to insert images as well as SmartArts, and clicking on any images or SmartArt in your slideshow brings up the contextual “Picture Tools” or “SmartArt Tools” tabs that lets you specify the layouts and styles of your images and SmartArts:

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Just like the Excel Web App, the PowerPoint Web App also doesn’t have a “Save” button as the presentation is automatically saved in the background as you edit. Sadly, the PowerPoint Web App doesn’t allow you to print the slideshows either.

Word Web App

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The Word Web App in this release is only a document viewer – as editing is currently in the works and will be available by the next release. The Web App also seem to take advantage of Silverlight in rendering the Word documents, allowing you to view and zoom into the documents without the loss of any details. The Word App viewer also features a “Find” button allowing you to search for specific words within the document. Just like the PowerPoint Web App, the Word Web App has a “pop-out” button on the top-right corner allowing you to view the file in a separate full-screen window.

To compensate the lack of editing in this release, the Word Web App is the only Web App that lets you print the document directly from within the Web App. It appears that as you click the “Print” button, the Web App generates a PDF file in the background and provides you with the print options dialogue just like in your PDF viewer.

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Clearly this is not a full-featured release of Office Web Apps, but it does demonstrate to the world some of the capabilities these Web Apps can handle. The most impressive feature of these Web Apps must be the fidelity retained in the documents, as you pretty much don’t lose any formatting when you view them in the Web Apps. From the looks of it, Office Web Apps doesn’t intend to replace the Office desktop suite, but rather complements it such that people can now view, share and collaborate with their documents on the cloud, integrating tightly with SkyDrive and other Windows Live services (it appears in your What’s New feed too!). It’s definitely a great addition to the Office and Windows Live family and we’re excited to see what’s more coming in the future releases!