Office Web Apps are accessed via a Web browser, require SkyDrive online storage and are available through most Office 365 plans. Office 365 is Microsoft's subscription-based service that provides access to Office productivity, communication and collaboration software in the cloud and on the desktop.
In a blog post on Tuesday, Amanda Lefebvre, senior product marketing manager on Microsoft's Office Web Apps team, said that Microsoft intends to improve the user experience, social and collaboration capabilities, and cross-platform browser support for Office Web Apps.
"You'll see us introducing a collection of authoring features that make it easier to collaborate in the cloud, a new real time co-authoring experience and editing capabilities from more devices," said Lefebvre.
Just as Adobe is embracing software-as-a-service, so too is Microsoft, without going so far as dropping boxed software. Microsoft director Clint Patterson in a separate blog post on Tuesday observed, "Like Adobe, we think subscription software-as-a-service is the future. The benefits are huge. Subscribers get the latest and most complete applications, not to mention support across the multitude of devices people use today." That's a message cloud-oriented companies have been hammering for years.
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Office Web Apps will become more Google-friendly, with support for Android tablets, and more like Google Apps, with true real-time collaborative editing. Office Web Apps presently offer something close to real-time collaborative editing, but they fall short -- users see collaborators' changes only after those changes have been saved, rather than as they type.
Microsoft's announcement may seem to be premature given that Lefebvre's blog post suggests Office Web Apps won't gain Android tablet and real-time collaboration support for a few months. But at least Microsoft is making real-time editing in PowerPoint available immediately.
Office Web Apps already support a variety of mobile devices, at least partially. Microsoft maintains a detailed online chart that identifies how mobile devices function, or don't, with Office Web Apps and other Office 365 software.
Michael Atalla, director of product marketing for Office 365, in a phone briefing claimed that Microsoft understands productivity challenges more broadly than competitors like Google, thanks to the scope of its business software and to its years of enterprise experience.
"Holistically, productivity is more than running code in a browser," Atalla said, as if to suggest that Google's efforts are confined to client-side scripting.
In any event, Microsoft, though cautious in its move to the cloud, appears to be doing well with Office 365 adoption. "This quarter was our strongest ever with net seat additions up five times over the prior year," said Microsoft CFO Peter Klein during the company's earnings conference call in April. "One in four of our enterprise customers now has Office 365 and the business is on $1 billion annual revenue run rate."