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Review: Microsoft Office Web Apps

We weigh the online versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint to see how they stack up as standalone productivity apps -- and against Google Apps.

Installing Office Web Apps

Office Web Apps can be tested by themselves, in conjunction with the Office 2010 Beta, or as part of the Office Professional Plus 2010 Trial Version.

The easiest test-drive skips the Office installation completely. When I uploaded a .doc file to "SkyDrive," Microsoft's 25-gigabyte online storage area included with an existing Windows Live account, I was invited to try Office Web Apps without having to install any other software.

Otherwise, the path to Office Web Apps goes through an installation of Office 2010. The Office Home and Business 2010 Beta includes new versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote, all of which are scheduled for release to the consumer market in June.

For IT professionals and developers, the Office Professional Plus 2010 Trial includes new versions of the entire Office Professional suite, but this approach requires a full installation that replaces existing installations of Office, for which Microsoft highly recommends using a spare PC. For the purposes of the InformationWeektest-drive of Office Web Apps, the Office Home and Business 2010 Beta was deemed sufficient.

One of the most noteworthy aspects of the Office 2010 Beta is the delivery method of the software. Instead of the user having to download and install a multi-gigabyte installation package, the entire suite is delivered via Click-to-Run technology based on Microsoft App-V. This technology, known as application virtualization, enables Office 2010 to run alongside earlier versions of Microsoft Office as well as on systems using applications incompatible with traditional, CD-based Office installations.

Furthermore, application virtualization makes it possible for licensed applications to follow individual users instead of being tied to specific PCs. For example, if an enterprise institutes a hot-desking system within a facility or lab, application virtualization can enable streaming of each individual's licensed applications on an as-needed basis.

Instead of having to provision each workstation with the maximum possible configuration encompassing every part of the Office suite, an individual can log into any given workstation and have required applications streamed within minutes to the local environment, with no drop-off in performance or capability to the end user, while enabling greater manageability and standardization for the IT organization.

In any assessment of the relative merits of Office Web Apps compared to other online alternatives, it's important to consider that application virtualization has the substantive impact of removing some of the key drivers behind the need for browser-based office productivity applications in the first place.

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