Microsoft reports more than 7.5 million downloads of the Office 2010 Beta, and Office Web Apps ranks among the most highly anticipated features in the imminent release of the software. But are Office Web Apps worthwhile as separate offerings, or are they only meaningful as part of the larger fabric?
In their current incarnation, however, Office Web Apps do not appear designed to win a feature comparison faceoff against Google Docs or other online office productivity applications. With Google Docs, Google aims to create an online substitute for the Microsoft Office suite, allowing users to create, edit and share documents online, plus offline with the addition of Google Gears. By contrast, the functionality offered through Office Web Apps is far more basic, better suited to making minor corrections to existing documents than to creating documents wholly online.
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The likely logic behind these divergent design decisions stems from the relative diversity of Microsoft's business compared to that of Google's. Microsoft makes most of its revenue from selling software licenses to OEMs, consumers, and enterprise customers, whereas Google makes more than 96 percent of its revenue from search-related advertising.
It's to be expected, therefore, that free products from Microsoft are primarily designed to convince you to buy software, while free products from Google entice you to remain within the Google fold, such that you continue to conduct searches through the Google search engine rather than exposing yourself to competing advertising channels and user experiences.
With these differences in mind, we can better understand the companies' respective design choices. By themselves, the Office Web Apps may not reshape the computing world. In combination with other features of Office 2010, however, these humble Web services may help Microsoft turn the tables on its upstart online challengers, regaining its once-dominant prominence in 21st century computing.