Microsoft extends Office apps to browser

Microsoft Office Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote to be available over Web

Microsoft Tuesday introduced Office Web applications, saying it would finally open its Office suite to access via a Web browser in the next release of the software.

Los Angeles -- Microsoft Tuesday introduced Office Web applications, saying it finally would open its Office suite to access via a Web browser in the next release of the software. The company made the announcement at its annual Professional Developers Conference, where it repeatedly has said all its software eventually would be offered as a service.

Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote will be delivered with Office 14 and Office Live, a consumer service, in the same way the company's popular Outlook Web Access makes e-mail available via a browser. The traditional desktop version will remain as the flagship version of Office.

The Office Web applications will let users create, edit and collaborate on Office documents. The Web applications, however, are not feature-for-feature renditions of the desktop versions, but they have significant capabilities available via the browser, according to experts. "This is way bigger than anything Google has done so far," said Peter O’Kelly, an independent analyst. "Think of the things you could do going to the next level of Office Live Workspace. Not just basic AJAX edit controls, but actually the models that are embodied in the applications, and being able to take advantage of that without requiring that everyone have the latest version of Office installed on the client side. It is big."

For business users, Microsoft will offer a subscription service and volume-licensing options for those that want to host the Office Web applications on their own networks.

Office, one of the company's traditional cash cows, has been attacked over the years by various knock-offs, including recent open source productivity applications, but Microsoft has been steadfast in its domination of the market and its delivery model. Unable to resist the onslaught of online applications, including Google Apps, Microsoft now will have its most popular set of applications available via a PC, phone or browser.

Office Web apps will support Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari. The applications, however, will not have an offline mode, the company said. For that, users will need a full desktop version of Office. "We think this is a huge difference in what is available today," said Takeshi Numoto, general manager in Microsoft's information-worker product management group. "Right now there is no choice [between online or desktop]."  Office Web applications are very "high fidelity" versions including rendering of formats and such features as watermarks in the browser, Numoto said.

Microsoft will rely on representational-state-transfer (REST) APIs to tie together versions of documents, so that when a user saves files in the browser-based version, copies of the document are updated elsewhere, including on Web sites.

Microsoft was not ready to talk about how corporate users would roll out the Web-based Office applications, but most likely they would become part of a company's SharePoint infrastructure, Numoto said. Using alignment with Office Live, the Office Web applications can tap into Windows Live ID for access control and use Office Live Workspace for storage. Other software under the Office banner currently offered as services includes Office Live Meeting and Exchange Online. Microsoft also has Office Mobile for devices.

Microsoft will have a private technology preview of Office Web applications beginning later this year and stretching into 2009. People signed up for Office Live Workspace, a service that let users share and store documents online, will be considered for inclusion in the private preview testing, Microsoft said.

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