Test Driving Office Web Apps: First Blush

Had some spare time over the Thanksgiving holiday and thought I’d take the online versions of Microsoft Office applications for a little test drive.

As I’ve been spending a lot of time in PowerPoint lately, I started here first. Most notable:

  • Lack of transitions
  • Lack of animations

Not fatal, in themselves. However, most everything else I typically use is intact. I was able to create the short deck below in under ten minutes. Especially nice is support for SmartArt, those handy little art-lets to which you can add text in outline format (you’ll see flow slides in the presentation below):

Not bad for ten minutes’ work; an additional minute to figure out how to share it across the web, and voila, instant availability.

Excel is no slouch, either. Shortcuts like cell ranges (type ‘January’ in the first cell, then grab-and-drag the lower right to create the rest of the years’ labels), drag-and-copy and drag-and select work well. Formulas are a bit tricky at first (I expected to find them on the ‘Insert’ menu), but press the ‘=’ sign and let cell context-sensitivity do the rest .. I was able to total up rows and columns with ease. Control-key formatting (B, U and I) works with single cells and selected ranges. Graphing was a nice surprise; I built out a quick calendar and column range and it updated in near-real time as I changed data. Very nice.

The best of the three (IMHO) is Word. Tables, spell-check, style-based headings and a bunch of other goodies are supported, along with bullets, numbered paragraphs, text alignment and quotations. I created the following document in less than five minutes with the help of my friends at Lorem Ipsum:

http://cid-ecddcf497d93928b.office.live.com/embedicon.aspx/TestDocument.docx

(update: no document preview because no ’embed’ option for the link).

Absent was support for table of contents, though .. will discuss that (and a few other bits) later.

What about saving? With the Word WebApp, you have a save icon that stores the document in your SkyDrive. The PowerPoint and Excel WebApps have a “Where’s the save button” button that returns a response of “saved automatically” (also to SkyDrive). This does impede performance a bit, as there’s a fair bit of round-trip traffic going between your PC and the server. The “Save As” button will save a local copy, and the “Open in xyzzy” works nicely with local copies of the software (xyzzy, if installed).

All in all, a very nice set of features to create, store and access documents from virtually anywhere. Unlike Office Live, you can work with Microsoft Office documents directly from http://office.live.com even on the Google Chrome browser.

Oh: did the above paragraph confuse you? You’re not alone:

  • http://office.live.com gives you access to the online version of Microsoft Office applications and saves these documents to SkyDrive.
  • http://officelive.com is free web hosting and document storage .. however, you can also edit documents with the same online versions of Microsoft Office applications (as above) .. and they’re still stored in SkyDrive.

.. someone should call the branding police Winking smile This may be why Microsoft is rebranding the whole online document thing under the umbrella of Office 365: now called Office Professional Plus, these WebApps join Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online (formerly Microsoft Office Communicator).

In my next pass at this, I’ll upload some locally-created documents with advanced features and see how the online versions deal with them.

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About Michael Coates
I am a pragmatic evangelist. The products, services and solutions I write about fulfill real-world expectations and use cases. I stay up-to-date on real products I use and review, and share my thoughts here. I apply the same lens when designing an architecture, product or when writing papers. I am always looking for ways that technology can create or enhance a business opportunity .. not just technology for technology's sake. My CV says: Seasoned technology executive, leveraging years of experience with enterprise and integration architectural patterns, executed with healthy doses of business acumen and pragmatism. That's me. My web site says: Technology innovations provide a myriad of opportunities for businesses. That said, having the "latest and greatest" for its own sake isn't always a recipe for success. Business successes gained through exploiting innovation relies on analysis of how the new features will enhance your business followed by effective implementation. Goals vary far and wide: streamlining operations, improving customer experience, extending brand, and many more. In all cases, you must identify and collect the metrics you can apply to measure your success. Analysis must be holistic and balanced: business and operational needs must be considered when capitalizing on a new technology asset or opportunity.

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