Remember how Google claimed that users no longer had to fork out money for a fully featured office productivity suite like Microsoft Office since its cloud-based Google Docs application could perform most, if not all of the tasks found in the former from the convenience of a web browser? Well, it seems that Google is now learning that one does not challenge Microsoft without facing some form of consequences. At least, not with the Redmond giant poised to take on both OpenOffice and Google Docs with plans for global availability of its free Office Web Apps online service.
When Microsoft first announced the introduction of its online Office Web Apps service, many were understandably elated. After all, for all its merits and popularity, Microsoft's standalone Office productivity software suite was not (and is still not) the most affordable software package available in the marke, and suffice to say Google's not-so-stellar track record wtih regards to user privacy has caused some wary users to shy away from the search giant's free Google Docs offering.
However, many users, especially those in Asia who wanted to hop on the Office Web Apps bandwagon had a good reason to be disappointed. This is due to the fact that the full service was only available to most Western countries, while other regions were only given a small subset of the service's features. More importantly, the ability to create an Office document online was conspiciously absent in non-Western countries, thus rendering the service mostly useless for productivity needs. This has finally changed though: Microsoft has announced in a blog post that complete Office Web Apps service has officially arrived in most Asian countries, and it intends to further expand the reach of its service to even more countries around the world.
As its name implies, Office Live Apps is a service that forms part of the greater Windows Live software ecosystem. As such, users will need to have a Windows Live account in order to make use of Office Live Apps. And to Microsoft's credit, accessing Office Live Apps is mostly a very painless affair: after signing in to Windows Live, users only need to click on the Office link located at the top of the page, as shown below.
Users who have accessed this page before would realize that something new has been added to the Office page: the ability to create new Office documents online.
Clicking on the 'Create new document' icons will promt the user to enter a suitable filename, after which the user is presented with a page which sports a user interface almost identical to that found on Office 2010:
Features-wise, Office Web Apps is largely identical to that of Google Docs, but the user interface makes all the difference. By taking pains to ensure that Office Web Apps looks mostly identical and integrates well towith Office 2010 on the desktop, it is highly possible that users who are already used to the desktop-based Office productivity software will have little to no problems adapting to Office Web Apps.
That being said, it appears that Office Web Apps comes with at least one limitation: documents can only be saved to the OOXML format, which means that any Office files created with the free online service can only be downloaded and read by Office 2007 and 2010. Needless to say, the fact that Microsoft had chosen to force OOXML down on users has caused it considerable illwill among standards-respecting users.
But then again, being able to make use of what is essentially an online version of Office 2010 for free complete with a near-identical user interface definitely more than makes up for the format restriction, right?
Source: Microsoft Office blog