Office Web Apps: Five Questions

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Microsoft's upcoming Office 2010 is news alone, but what really excited the tech world was the announcement of a free online version of the software, called Office Web Apps. The company already offers a bundle of cloud software over Windows Live -- including mail, storage, and blogging tools -- but taking its paid software onto the free, online world is a bold move. That raises some questions:

How, exactly, will Office Web Apps differ from Office 2010?

Microsoft is fuzzy on what will be different about Office Web Apps. The offline software will be more robust by comparison, but it's not clear how it'll be better, aside from the obvious advantage of not needing the Net. Using Word as an example, basic editing and spell check are enough for many tasks, and they'll be included. What about more advanced features like tables and track changes? Microsoft could very well clip one or two crucial features as a lure to the paid software, but we won't know for sure until a side-by-side comparison emerges.

How free is free?

The idea behind free Office Web Apps is to drive users toward Microsoft's money-making online services, such as Bing, but are there other strategies at work? What are we looking at for advertisements, and will Microsoft ever suggest that users "upgrade" to the paid software? Will people who pay for Office 2010 get additional features online? Inevitably, some cannibalization of the paid software will occur. Microsoft's response should be interesting.

Is there an App for that?

We heard rumblings of a Microsoft Office iPhone App back in April, but so far, nothing's coming. That makes me curious how Office Web Apps will function on a smartphone, or whether Microsoft will instead opt for a paid app. Keep in mind that Google Docs already offers mobile access, so if Microsoft wants to be competitive on all fronts, it'll follow suit.

Will full compatibility ever happen?

The Web version of Office 2010 will be compatible with Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari. That leaves Opera and, more notably, Google's Chrome out in the cold. As a tactic, that's understandable, given that Chrome drives more people to Google searches and Microsoft is trying to pull them away. But it's not clear whether that's the intent. If not, will we see Chrome support in the future?

Will Office 2010 play well with Windows Live?

If you have a Windows Live account, do us a favor and check out the home page right now. It's not the cleanest site around -- so how clean and friendly will Windows Live become when hundreds of millions of users storm the gates, looking to process words? It's pleasing to know that Office Web Apps will integrate with Microsoft's SkyDrive online storage, but will users be able to import photo albums or e-mail documents directly from the Word processor? Microsoft has the opportunity to create a seamless service across all of Windows Live. Here's hoping the company doesn't blow it.

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