Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Microsoft Office Web Applications Arrive: Is It Finally Time for Your “Office in the Cloud(s)?”

Microsoft has begun rolling out something many of us in the punditocracy have long viewed as inevitable but unlikely – Web-based, so-called “lightweight” versions of its flagship Office programs. The debut is so far limited to a subset of the Office suite, and to invitees only, but the implications for collaboration – and for the venerable, nearly ubiquitous Microsoft Office itself – are already significant.

Microsoft is in fact focusing largely on support for collaboration with its Office Web Applications. They’re accessible via Internet Explorer, Firefox or Apple’s Safari Web browser (but not Google’s Chrome, at least so far), and the Web-based version of Excel already supports multi-authoring, or simultaneous editing of the same workbook by multiple collaborators. Users can’t yet create Word documents, but should soon be able to create and collaborate on all types of Office documents.

Microsoft plans to make Office Web Applications available in three different modes. Subscribers to its Windows Live service will have no-cost access. Users of Microsoft Online Services will be able to purchase subscriptions. And companies licensing Microsoft Office 10 will also be able to license and provide access to Office Web Applications.

I expect these Microsoft offerings to be very popular, especially at companies seeking to reduce or halt the growth of their licensing and support contract costs for Microsoft Office. Many such companies have deployed or begun exploring other online alternatives from Adobe, Google, Zoho and elsewhere. However, these all offer mixed bags of interoperability and compatibility with native Office applications and file formats. So an online suite from Microsoft should eventually offer an alternative that does not suffer from such limitations. But those other online office/productivity suite providers aren’t going to stand still either.

Microsoft’s official entry into the online collaboration suite market will definitely make the market more interesting. Whether it will benefit Microsoft as much as or more than its cloud-based competitors remains to be seen. But where users are concerned, more online collaboration choice is definitely better, especially if it comes with more seamless interoperability with all of those Microsoft Office files most of us rely upon every day to do business.

If you want to know more, check out these two Focus Research Briefs – “The Productivity Suites War” (at and “10 Signs that it May be Time to Consider a Web-based Productivity Suite” (at And if you have opinions on where online collaboration and productivity suites are headed, please share them at