The Cloud, Day 6: Working with Microsoft Office Web Apps

30 Days With the Cloud: Day 6

This is the third day of the 30 Days With the Cloud series dedicated to assessing the online productivity suite platforms and selecting one to use for the remainder of my month in the cloud. Today I am exploring Microsoft Office Web Apps.

User Interface

When I consider the look and feel of the user interface for these cloud-based productivity platforms, it is in relation to what I am used to--which is the Microsoft Office suite. I was not at all surprised to find that Microsoft Office Web apps provides the closest user interface to the one I am comfortable with.

The Microsoft Office Web apps menus and tools lack the ribbon interface from Office 2010, though. It has a ribbon-ish interface, but it is significantly limited compared with the flexibility and capabilities of the ribbons in the actual Microsoft Office equivalents. The graphic interface is there, but the options are more like what Zoho Docs offers.

File Storage

Microsoft relies on its own SkyDrive cloud storage for Office Web Apps. In fact, the SkyDrive site is essentially the Microsoft Office Web apps home page. SkyDrive displays the files and folders I have stored there, and at the top are icons to create new Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or OneNote files using the Web apps.

Microsoft offers Web-based versions of the Office tools I am used to.
Compatibility

Because I am measuring compatibility based on how well the different cloud-based suites work with standard Microsoft Office file formats, it's no shocker that Microsoft Office Web apps is the clear winner here as well.

The formatting and fidelity of Office Web apps is a given--as long as you don’t get too fancy. Standard formatting functions like bold, italic, underline, highlighting, and inserting images work fine. When it comes to more complex documents with edit tracking enabled, or comments, the files can be viewed from SkyDrive, but can not be edited with Office Web apps.

Sharing and Collaboration

Microsoft has made significant strides in this area, but it still lags behind Google when it comes to real-time sharing and collaboration on files. In July Microsoft added a co-authoring feature for the Word Web app. It does allow for multiple parties to collaborate simultaneously on a document, but it doesn’t reflect the changes instantly like Google Docs.

Mobile

As I would expect, Microsoft’s cloud-based productivity tools work best with Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 smartphones. Go figure. Windows Phone 7 is tightly integrated with SkyDrive and Office Web apps.

For those who use Windows Phone 7 smartphones, it makes choosing Microsoft Office Web apps a virtual no-brainer--just as those who have Android devices are probably best off with Google Docs. Of course, I have an iPhone and an iPad, and both Google Docs and Office Web apps falter on iOS in comparison with their own native mobile platforms.

Having spent some time with each of these three cloud-based productivity platforms, I find myself torn between Google Docs and Microsoft Office Web Apps. I genuinely prefer Microsoft Office Web Apps personally. I like the apps themselves better. I appreciate the integration with the Microsoft Office software installed locally on my PC--and the additional functionality that comes with that.

If those were the only considerations, Microsoft Office Web apps would be a slam-dunk decision. However, other people I interact and collaborate with operate from Google Docs, and I prefer Box.net to SkyDrive, so Google Docs has the edge there. When push comes to shove, I don’t like Google Docs nearly as much, but it provides a better overall experience for me in terms of what I do and how I need to use it.

It is hard to declare a clear winner. The decision is entirely subjective and can be swayed significantly depending on the mobile platform you use, what your customers or co-workers use, and other factors beyond the productivity platform itself. It’s a toss-up, but I am going to choose Google Docs as my productivity platform for the remainder of this series.

Read the Last "30 Days" series: 30 Days With Windows Phone 7

Day 5: Taking a Look at Zoho Docs

Day 7: Email in the Cloud

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