Office 2010 Review: Inside Microsoft's Newest Suite

Microsoft's Web Apps: Easy Access and Limited Functionality

The Web-based version of Word provides basic formatting functions and a spelling checker; it also has a button to get you to the desktop app if you need more functionality.
It comes as no great surprise that Microsoft's initial foray into Web-based Office applications has produced skeletal shadows of the company's desktop offerings. Even if you have great bandwidth, the best apps available on the Web can't really match the rich functionality and speed of Office's robust and mature desktop programs.

What Microsoft is doing with Office Web Apps appears to be little more than an effort to fend off Google Docs and other online-apps competitors by giving users who collaborate on documents--or individuals who need access to their files from several Office-equipped computers--a basic alternative.

Supporting evidence for this theory: Office Web Apps can edit documents only in the XML-based file formats introduced in Office 2007 (if you try to edit a document made in an earlier format, you get a prompt to create an XML-based copy). And all of the Web-based applications have handy buttons that allow you to open the document at hand in the corresponding desktop program, in case you find yourself bumping up against the online versions' limits.

Most glaringly absent in the Web versions, however, is support for any of the desktop applications' revision modes. In my hands-on tests of the Web apps, I wasn't able to open documents with revision-mode changes for editing; I could only view them. You also don't get any support for video.

You can, at least, create new Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote documents online, via the Office menu item that appears on your Windows Live home page when the apps launch (Microsoft says that this function will be available in June, when the desktop suite goes on sale). And saving items to SkyDrive, the repository for Office documents in Windows Live, is a straightforward, one-click affair in the Backstage view of the 2010 apps.

Microsoft is also integrating Web-app support into the new version of Hotmail: Users who receive attachments in Office formats will be able to open and view them in the browser (saving the download step previously required to open the documents in a desktop program). You can edit Office XML docs in the browser too; Hotmail will offer to convert non-XML docs if you try to edit them. Of course, you'll still have the desktop option if you want more functionality.

Aside from online access, the other principal benefit of Microsoft's Web apps is that they don't break Office formatting. Whatever changes you make to a file on the Web, you are unlikely to be surprised with the results when you bring the file back to your desktop. Given the formatting issues that frequently arise with Office docs in competing Web apps, this is no small achievement.

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