Along with the debut of Office 2010 this year, Microsoft is hitting the Web with a new online edition of the suite. Office Web Apps will offer Web-based counterparts to the desktop versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and eventually OneNote. If your organization is looking for tools to edit, store, and share Office documents online, Web Apps is certainly worth investigating.
Of course, storing and sharing Office documents on the Web isn't exactly new. Using Microsoft's Office Live Workspace, you can already save and manage documents online. But Office Web Apps goes a few steps further by letting you actually create and edit documents through your browser. Ultimately, Office Web Apps is due to replace Office Live Workspace.
The editing commands in Web Apps are very basic compared with the full feature set found in the desktop versions. But even these basic features can help your users more easily update and collaborate on the same documents.
Where will those online documents reside? Individual users can save their documents through the Windows Live SkyDrive service, Microsoft's free online storage area. Businesses that use SharePoint can create a repository for documents to store them in-house on their SharePoint servers. Finally, companies that use certain Microsoft Online Services, such as SharePoint Online, can store their documents in the cloud.
Along with Office 2010, Office Web Apps is currently in beta or Technical Preview mode, with both scheduled to go live sometime in the first half of the year. Though the beta doesn't yet have all the promised features, it's developed enough so you can test its capabilities.
Before you can access Web Apps, you first need to install the Office 2010 beta, which you can download at Microsoft's Office 2010 Website.
After Office 2010 is installed, you can try out Office Web Apps by launching Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. Let's use Word as the test subject here. First, create or open a document in Word, then click on the File menu to access Backstage. New to Office 2010, Backstage lets you quickly save and open documents as well as run other commonly used commands. From Backstage, click on the Share command and then click on Save to SkyDrive. You'll be prompted to log in to SkyDrive with a Windows Live account.
You'll see four default folders—Photos, Videos, Documents, and Public. The first three folders store items for your eyes only, while the Public folder houses files you wish to share with others. Double-click on one of the folders, such as Documents. The familiar Save As dialog box pops up for you to choose a name and file format for your document, and your document is then saved.
Figure 1 The Excel Web App allows you to edit Excel documents online
After you save a document to SkyDrive for the first time, you must log in directly to your SkyDrive account through your browser to accept the Web Apps usage agreement. In SkyDrive, select the folder and then the document you just saved and click on the View command. The agreement appears for you to accept, allowing the document to pop up in your browser. Once you've okayed the agreement, you'll be able to more smoothly save and open your online documents.
If you run SharePoint in-house and want to keep your online documents safe, secure, and private, you'll probably want to use the SharePoint workspace as your Web Apps repository. Of course, SharePoint has long offered you the ability to store and share Office documents and other files. But Web Apps promises better integration with SharePoint, especially SharePoint 2010. Plus, you and your users will now be able to create and edit documents. For you SharePoint admins, Microsoft offers a tech document on how to deploy Web Apps.
After your workspace is set up, whether it's through SkyDrive or SharePoint, you don't need Office 2010 installed locally to access your documents. Through your browser, you can create, edit, view, delete, copy, move, rename, and download them. For now, you can only test the editing functionality for Excel and PowerPoint. Online editing for Word is not yet working in the beta but will be available by the final release.
Sharing documents with others through Web Apps requires you to e-mail each person a link to your document, just like in Office Live Workspace. But again, Web Apps takes the process a bit further. People with Windows Live accounts or access to your SharePoint server can view and edit those shared documents online.
As you try out Office Web Apps, keep in mind that it's a beta. Some of the features are still limited or awkward to use; certain items such as the ability to edit a Word document don't yet work. But as the product matures, it should get smoother and allow you to test it out fully.
Web Apps runs under Internet Explorer 7 and 8; Firefox 3.5 or higher on Windows, Linux, and the Mac; and Safari 4.0 or higher on the Mac. You can learn more about Office Web Apps at its Microsoft Web site.
Lance Whitney is an IT consultant, trainer, and technical writer. He has spent countless hours tweaking Windows workstations and servers. Originally a journalist, he took a blind leap into the IT world 15 years ago.