Free is a good feature: Microsoft Office Web Apps

[Note: I apologize for any confusion the following review may cause. It’s actually a positive review of Microsoft Office Apps, but that may not come through in this post written early-morning style.]

Earlier this month, in addition to shipping a new version of the ubiquitous software product we all love to hate, Office 2010, Microsoft also flipped on the switch of an advertising-supported, free-to-use web product they are calling Office Web Apps. They’ve added these “apps” to Windows Live, found at the URL Live.com.

If I were joking, I’d call Office Web Apps Microsoft’s “Google Docs -killer” — joking, as I have often complained when products are described with the hyphenated -killer tag. In this case, the joke would be especially complex (in a very geekish way and to a very small group) as Google Docs was/were said to be a “Microsoft Office-killer” when it/they came out. So, technically speaking, one might say Office Web Apps is/are a Microsoft Office-killer-killer.

Simply put, Office Web Apps are free, stripped-down versions of Microsoft Excel, Word and PowerPoint (and something called OneNote that, okay I’ll admit it, I’ve never heard of before) that are web applications, not desktop applications (I’ll get to that distinction in a moment.)

I’ve only done limited “play” with Office Web Apps, but I will note (with some irony), they seem more influenced by Google Docs than by the desktop versions of Excel, Word and PowerPoint — but that’s a good thing. While I have numerous complaints with Microsoft software in general, my most repeated one has to do with their poor user experience. Specifically, the programs tend to be so loaded down with so many features for so many different uses and situations, the end-result typically proves Robert Browning’s poetic advice that “less is more.” (Although, with Microsoft, it’s proven by demonstrating that “more is less.” Which, come to think of it, my blog posts often prove, as well.)

Therefore, it is most refreshing to see that Microsoft can actually produce software that’s stripped down and seemingly intuitive to use. I say “seemingly” because one of the slides on the Power Point Live insta-test below was going to an inserted image which seemed very easy to do — click, choose, upload — but it didn’t work for me.

There are going to be some features you may miss (Walt Mossberg includes a few in his review), but none that I’ll miss as I do everything possible to avoid being a power-user of the desktop Office Suite. (Another post for another day.)

For those of you who may not be techies, I’ll give you this warning: While the files you create with Office Web Apps are compatible with files you create with your Desktop Office 2010 software, the “apps” are browser-based “software-as-a-service” products that work only if you are connected to the web. You can move files created on the apps to your desktop, and vice versa, but if you don’t have web access most of the time, the apps approach is probably not for you. (Note: while you can “download” (under the “more” tab) any document to your desktop, the “open in Power Point, etc.” only works if you are running certain versions of the desktop software and certain browsers.)

Speaking of “certain browser,” for me, here is the best thing about Windows Live: It actually works in the browsers I use (except for some of the “open-in” features): Firefox, Safari and Chrome. In the past, I wanted to review a small business-oriented version of a similar free Microsoft service called OfficeLive and found at the URL, “OfficeLive.com.” Unfortunately, the message I receive when I go there indicates the service can’t be used in the browsers I favor.

Not so with Windows Live — they work great in Chrome, Safari and Firefox.

(Are you getting this? Windows Live and Office Web Apps are not the same product as the Office Live business version of the same product. Therein lies one of the problems with the way Microsoft brands and markets its products.)

Anyway, below, you’ll find a little presentation I created in less than five minutes to see what the Power Point “Web App” is like.

I like the embed feature that allows me to do display it here. Apparently, the embed feature is not working, (or maybe I’m not supporting “iframe” here, so, with a bit of irony, it’s embedded below using SlideShare.net:

Note: No iPad support: Like Google Docs, Office Web Apps do not work on an iPad. Whoever gets there first (Google or Microsoft) with a good iPad compatible “web app” office suite will have a “killer web app.”

Bottomline: I apologize for this review. It is confusing. What I meant to say was, if you can find Office Live Web (sorry) Apps, they are free, simple and may work for you.

  • Every time I try to go to the URL to check it out I get an error. Maybe they've had so much interest their servers crashed? ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I'm sure this review has driven so much traffic there, it has crashed their servers. ; )

  • Every time I try to go to the URL to check it out I get an error. Maybe they've had so much interest their servers crashed? ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I'm sure this review has driven so much traffic there, it has crashed their servers. ; )