Office Web Applications, the browser-based versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, are now being made available to more users according to a post on the Windows Live Team blog. The online office suite, which began its initial alpha testing (in Microsoft terms, it's called a "Technical Preview") in mid-September, was originally made available to only a limited number of users. Today, the Technical Preview is opening up, allowing more people to try the Web Apps, Microsoft's first attempt at porting their desktop Office software to the cloud.

About the Web Apps and the Technical Preview

Although still limited to users in the U.S. and Japan, participants in the Technical Preview are able to access the web versions of the Office programs through Windows Live SkyDrive, Microsoft's online cloud storage service and a part of their Windows Live suite of tools and services.

SkyDrive, which provides each user with 25 GB of online storage, is used to host the documents created using the Office Web Applications. For now, the service is entirely free. However, during our earlier interview with Takeshi Numoto, the corporate vice president of the Microsoft Office Product Management Group, we questioned him about future monetization plans for the online suite. He wouldn't confirm any details, only saying that Microsoft was "experimenting" with several options. To date, nothing has changed on that front.

At the moment, the Technical Preview is not offering full access to all the Office programs - only Word, Excel and PowerPoint are currently available. There is a placeholder for OneNote, but it displays a message reading "Still to come..." when clicked. We're told that OneNote support is due later this fall. That should be relatively soon, considering that it's already October.

The web version of Microsoft Word is also incomplete at this time, allowing you to view files but not create or edit them. Only Excel and PowerPoint allow for both read and write access at the moment.

According to Microsoft, the Technical Preview program is designed solely for the purpose of collecting user feedback prior to the broader beta release of the service. No date has been given for the beta launch as of yet but the online suite is due to ship next year alongside Office 2010, the next version of the company's desktop software suite.

How to Join

If you're interested in signing up for the Technical Preview, you'll need to establish a Windows Live ID if you have yet to do so. Hotmail and Windows Live Mail users should already have one - it's your @hotmail.com or @live.com email address. You can then sign up for the Technical Preview program via this link. As noted above, you will need to select either the United States or Japan during signup, as those are the only two countries supported at this time. After completing the sign up process and accepting the license agreement, your Windows Live ID will have access to the Web Applications by way of SkyDrive.

Disclosure: Sarah Perez also freelances for Microsoft's Channel 10. She is not a Microsoft employee.