Back in July Microsoft launched the technical preview of Office 2010. But despite reports to the contrary, that technical preview didn’t include the highly-anticipated online version of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Starting today Microsoft is making a limited preview of Office Web Apps available to partners, and has officially said that a more widely-available beta of Web Apps will arrive this fall.
The one disappointment in the technical preview is that Word documents will be view only. The good news is that all formatting will be perfectly preserved in the online version, and documents can be shared and commented on by anyone. That sharing capability alone is a huge improvement in usability and workflows in an age where the desktop is no longer supreme. Users with Silverlight will have additional capabilities for zooming in and out on a document.
Excel spreadsheets will be fully editable in the preview. Note that, like the other apps, this is a more lightweight version of Excel than what you get on the desktop. Certain advanced features (such as charting) are not included, though the core needs for adding, filtering, and sorting data are all there. Users can control editing permissions for this and all other editable versions of Office Web Apps.
PowerPoint will allow full editing for anyone you share a presentation with, just like Excel. That also means that this isn’t a fully-featured version of PowerPoint; you’ll have complete text manipulation capabilities, but some of the advanced tools for slide decks are not available.
Is it Enough?
Even if these lighter versions of Office applications are lacking some of the advanced features that users are familiar with, the ability to easily access documents on the Web and share them with those you’re collaborating with is a big leap forward for the company.
Though Microsoft still clearly retains a huge amount of loyalty from users, Google has been moving aggressively to capture the attention of schools and enterprises. With this preview, the larger battle for which office suite will prevail at home, work, and in the enterprise is just beginning.