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microsoft web appsGoogle Documents has its problems. Its features are not comprehensive enough for truly serious office work, and it can be a bit slow and finicky when compared to a traditional office program. Still, Google Documents has started a revolution. The ability to access a document from any computer and share it with co-workers is immensely useful.

Microsoft knows this. It has been flat-footed so far, as the company’s investments in the mighty Microsoft Office Suite can’t be turned on (or with) a dime. They are not blind to the situation and to respond, Microsoft has released Microsoft Web Apps, a set of free applications which emulate the functions of Google Documents.

There Is Some Office In My Firefox

Microsoft’s new Web Apps platform is accessed through Windows Live. If you have a Windows Live account you just need to log into it and you’re good to go. If you don’t have a Windows Live account you will need to create one before you gain access.

microsoft web apps

Once you log in, you will be greeted by what Microsoft calls Skydrive. The Skydrive Windows Live Skydrive & 3 Alternative Online Storage Services Windows Live Skydrive & 3 Alternative Online Storage Services Read More is simply your online storage. It works a lot like a normal hard drive, although of course, you have to access it through your web browser. You can create new folders for storing and sharing documents and you can move documents from folder to folder. The interface is different from Google Documents, but not quite as robust in functionality. You can’t view documents as thumbnails, for example.


What Can You Buy For Free?

As you might expect, the functionality of Microsoft Web Apps is limited compared to the complete Microsoft Office suite. You will only be able to use web-based versions of Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote. The functionality of each Web App is limited when compared to the full version, as well. The Word Web App, for example, is only really suitable for basic text editing. You an also add photos and links, but that is about it. You can’t add comments, create annotations or edit footers.

If you already own the Microsoft Office suite, however, you’ll be able to open any Web App document in the full version of Microsoft Office. The value of this feature can’t be overstated. While browser-based office suites are interesting, they are never as smooth or as functional as a office suite installed on your local machine. By integrating the ability to open a Web App document with just one click Microsoft gives Office users the best of both worlds.

The interface of Microsoft’s Web App’s will be immediately familiar if you use Microsoft Office. This means that is better than other popular free suites, like Google Documents and Zoho. Rather than relying on old-fashion drop-down menus, Microsoft Web Apps follows a more modern tabbed design aesthetics. Icons are large and intuitive, and the most frequently needed functions are represented by large buttons which are easy to find. I was able to start using Microsoft Web Apps in no time at all.

A Real Alternative to Google Documents?

It is easy to pigeon-hole Microsoft as the senile old curmudgeon of the tech world, slowly dying as it makes desperate attempts to keep with the times. This portrayal is common (those lovely “I’m a Mac” ads didn’t help) but it is starting to seem inaccurate.

microsoft web apps

Microsoft’s Web Apps is an extremely solid platform. Its interface is actually better than that of Google Documents in many respects. Microsoft’s Web Apps also feels even quicker than Google Documents, which is by no means a slouch when it comes to speed. I noticed this somewhat when I was using Word, but the biggest speed difference seemed to come in the presentation apps. Microsoft’s Powerpoint Web App felt a lot smoother than Google’s implementation.

It is the integration with the paid version of Office that is killer, however. As an dedicated OpenOffice user, I’m now considering actually purchasing Microsoft Office 2010 just to gain access one-click integration with Microsoft’s Web Apps. If any OpenOffice users out there know a way to enable similar functionality for OpenOffice I’d love to hear it.

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