Today Microsoft officially announced The next phase of Office Web Applications. Very good to have this in to the hands (browsers) of beta testers out there.
Today at its Wordwide Partner Conference in New Orleans, Microsoft announced that the Microsoft Office suite has reached the ’technical preview’ milestone, and that starting today the company will open up the Office beta program to a larger number of users. While a new version of Office is obviously big news for a lot of users, the really interesting part of the announcement is that Microsoft is also releasing more details about the Office Web applications – which are lightweight, browser-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote (Microsoft’s note-taking tool). Beta testers can expect invites for the Office Web applications to go out in August ….
Enterprise: Office Web Behind the Firewall
For enterprises, Microsoft will offer two solutions. One will be hosted as part of Microsoft’s Online Services. Another version, however, will be available for companies to host on their own servers on top of SharePoint. For enterprises, especially those that have long felt that cloud computing wasn’t for them, this self-hosted version of the browser-based Office suite is going to be a very attractive solution, especially considering that all of Microsoft’s 90 million Office annuity customers will get access to this version as a regular part of the updates that come with these volume licenses.
As Numoto told us, Microsoft believes that this will allow the company to differentiate itself from other companies that offer office solutions in the cloud. While Takeshi was careful not to mention any competitors by name, it is obvious that this is aimed at Google (and perhaps less so, startups like Zoho and ThinkFree).
Clearly, this release will be a major deal for consumers and enterprises. A free version of the browser-based Office application that easily syncs with the desktop version and allows collaboration between users on both systems is going to be a big deal.
What About the Desktop?
The desktop apps obviously also got a make-over. But compared to the shift to Office 2007, the current release features only minor cosmetic updates from what we have seen so far. The integration of the web apps looks like the most exciting addition, as well as the ribbon interface becoming standard across all the applications. Also, Microsoft is putting a lot of emphasis on real-time collaboration, and different users can now edit documents simultaneously. Alhough Numote emphasized that all edits can be reversed.
Numoto also stressed the Office team focused on improving some of the most often used features. As an example, he told us that cut and paste is obviously one of the most popular features in Office, but that Microsoft found that after pasting something into a document, the key that was used the most often afterward was ‘delete.’ In order to improve the cut and paste process, Office will now feature a ‘cut and paste preview,’ similar to the feature that Office 2007 already offers for changing styles and fonts, for example.
Outlook aficionados will also be happy to hear that the email client will now feature an option to ‘ignore’ unwanted threads.
While the Technical Preview, which was announced today, will only be available for a limited number of users, the beta program will be open to everybody. Microsoft expects to ship the final version of Office 2010 in the first half of 2010.
So far, we haven’t had a chance to actually test-drive the desktop or web apps ourselves, but you can expect an in-depth review from us once we get access to the beta. …