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.
Previously, sharing documents called for one of two general approaches. The first approach was to e-mail or post somewhere online a Microsoft Office document to be opened by someone else with a licensed copy of Microsoft Office.
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Image Gallery: Microsoft’s Office Web Apps
The second approach was to transform the Office document into a PDF that could be e-mailed to anyone with the free Acrobat reader application installed. In both cases, the data within the document becomes potentially stale as soon as it is sent, and the user has to make a determination in advance whether the recipient is Office-enabled.
Now, through the "Backstage view of Office 2010, it has become just as easy to save a file to a Windows Live "SkyDrive" folder or to a SharePoint server as it is to save a file to a local disk.
Sharing a file from one of these Internet-accessible locations is much more than distributing a static copy of a file; instead, it's sharing a live link to the most recent version of a file, accessible to anyone using a modern browser or Windows-enabled smartphones.
Even if the editing capabilities of Office Web Apps remain weak, the underlying technology enables document sharing that not only retains the exact formatting of the original file, but also maintains workgroup or public access to the latest available data.
Unlike past upgrades to Office that required people to figure out how to deal with new file formats, this time it isn't the file format that's changing, but rather the way files are shared through business and social networks.
As individuals, workgroups, teams, and organizations move to Office 2010, their suppliers and business partners may feel the pressure to view those documents online instead of as attachments.
Soon, instead of receiving PDFs in your e-mail inbox, you may start receiving invitations to view Office 2010 documents located on shared folders within Windows Live and on enterprise SharePoint servers. Even if you haven't bought Office 2010, you'll still be able to view those files exactly as they were created, and in certain cases make small edits and annotations.
And in the process of viewing and editing those files, you'll likely end up with an active account on Windows Live with SkyDrive, which will exert a gravitational pull on your own workflow in proportion to the number of Office 2010 users in your supply chain. At some point soon, you may feel a nagging desire to make the overall collaboration process easier through a simple, quick, streaming download of one of the new Office 2010 applications.
And from there, perhaps you'll ditch your BlackBerry for a Windows Phone 7, start using Windows Live as your primary social network instead of Facebook, and spend your spare time playing Xbox games.
That's right, ladies and gentlemen: Microsoft has its mojo back.
Google in the Enterprise SurveyThere'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.