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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.

For example, if you've ever been forced to use a browser-based word processor or spreadsheet because of incompatibilities between previous versions of Microsoft Office and other mission-critical applications, now you can reconsider Office 2010.

Similarly, if you you've ever been pushed to choose between over-provisioning enterprise workstations and switching to a lower-cost, online alternative, a deployment of Office 2010 with application virtualization offers a viable, user-centric alternative.

The Test Drive

Given that Microsoft has little financial incentive to make the free Office Web Apps as functional as the full version of Office, and because application virtualization enables the full version of Office 2010 to be deployed across a wider range of PCs than previously possible, it's not entirely surprising that the free Office Web Apps themselves have been provisioned with an anemic, underpowered feature set.

At the time of the beta, only the Excel 2010 Office Web App offered online editing, which similarly to the latest versions of Google Docs, permits simultaneous editing by multiple users. However, the core user interface lacked some of the basics that an ordinary Excel user might expect. Some examples:

  • You can't cut-and-paste cells from an Excel application window to an Excel Web Apps browser worksheet; Google Docs allows this.
  • You can't modify or even move a chart, and can only edit the source data; Google Docs allows you to create new charts.
  • While you can insert a hyperlink using the dialog box, if you enter an http address into a cell, Office Web Apps won't recognize it as such; again, this works in Google Docs.

Related Videos

•  5 Reasons To Upgrade to Office 2010

•  Demo: PowerPoint Broadcast Microsoft Office 2010

•  Customizing Your Ribbon in Office 2010

•  Image & Video Editing in Office 2010

•  ReviewCam: Google Docs Gets Rewrite

Introducing A New Sharing Model

At this point, if you're tempted to dismiss Office Web Apps as an also-ran, you'd be well advised to reconsider. That's because the real impact of Office Web Apps is not whether it outperforms Google Docs on a feature-by-feature basis (it doesn't), but on how it fundamentally changes the workflow for business users who rely upon Microsoft Office products.

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Google in the Enterprise Survey
Google in the Enterprise Survey
There's no doubt Google has made headway into businesses: Just 28 percent discourage or ban use of its productivity ­products, and 69 percent cite Google Apps' good or excellent ­mobility. But progress could still stall: 59 percent of nonusers ­distrust the security of Google's cloud. Its data privacy is an open question, and 37 percent worry about integration.
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