Podcast: Office Web Apps – Microsoft’s Nail in Google Apps' Coffin?

There's a lot more to Office Web Apps than just free versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.

Can Office Web Apps stave off customer migration to Google Docs? Google wants to take down Microsoft and Google Docs strikes at the very heart of Microsoft's application suite, Microsoft Office. Many users of Google Docs switched because of its sharing and collaboration features or they were looking for a low cost ($50/user/year) web-based alternative to Microsoft Office. Microsoft's response to Google Apps is Office Web Apps, free web-based online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Microsoft introduced us to Office Web Apps last November at the Microsoft PDC 2008 conference, with an impressive demo of two users collaborating on the same Excel document, seeing each other’s updates to the document as they were editing it together.

My podcast guest this week is Chris Bryant, Director of Office Product Management at Microsoft. Chris does an excellent job of answering many of the questions I've had about how Office Web Apps fits into the full Microsoft Office suite experience, particularly when used in the enterprise. Office Web Apps are in Technical Preview right now, with the beta expected very soon and released version coming in the first half of 2010 (timed along with the Office 2010 rollout I would surmise.)

When Office Web Apps goes live, Microsoft will be offering them in three ways: free to users of Windows Live, running on hosted-SharePoint from Microsoft Online along with subscription fees, and running on SharePoint inside the enterprise licensed for use by users who have the desktop versions of Office. The free Office Web Apps available via Windows Live, along with 25GB of free SkyDrive storage, are obviously the most direct one-to-one competitive response to Google Docs.

But there is a lot more to Office Web Apps than just a free version of Office in a web-based form. Office Web Apps are part of a much bigger strategy than just to compete head on, toe-to-toe against Google Docs. Microsoft's challenge was to weave Office Web Apps into the rest of the Office platform to bring value Google and others can't easily recreate. Enter Office Web Apps running on SharePoint along with the newly renamed Groove product, SharePoint Workspace.

Microsoft's vision as I learned from the interview with Chris is to extend desktop Office apps with the Office Web App experience, and vice versa, extend Office Web Apps capabilities via the full desktop versions. An illustration of this is the fact Office Web Apps don't do everything their desktop brethren can, which is both to preserve desktop license sales (my statement, not Chris') and because there is functionality that is better performed on the desktop. When in the Word Web App for example, you can open the document you are currently editing on your SkyDrive by clicking the Open in Word button. When you are done editing the document in the desktop Word application, your work is saved back on your SkyDrive.

In an enterprise setting additional Microsoft elements come into play. First, since both Office Web Apps and documents are hosted on the SharePoint 2010 server, you can view and edit SharePoint documents directly from within your browser, never leaving the SharePoint web experience in many cases. Working with Office docs from SharePoint is now a much better integrated experience.

Chris didn't say this on the podcast but I suspect we'll see capabilities to tie Office Web Apps into other elements of SharePoint 2010, such as workflow processes, fields on forms and web pages, and more programmatic access to Office Web Apps. Let’s see if we hear something about this at the upcoming SharePoint conference in two weeks.

Now, add in SharePoint Workspace, formerly Groove, to provide local replication of your SharePoint hosted documents and you can take your data and your applications with you just about anywhere. Given all the momentum behind SharePoint these days, this could be a pretty powerful competitive advantage over open source OpenOffice, Google Docs and Google Wave.

On the podcast Chris and I go into much greater detail about all of this, and other questions such as whether Office Web Apps running on SharePoint Server will require CALs, who is licensed to run Office Web Apps, and what types of features aren't available in the online Office Web Apps.

In addition to the podcast player bar below, I've also included a 20 minute web video of Chris in action, demonstrating Office Web Apps. I hope this interview with Chris Bryant answers many of the questions you have about Office Web Apps, and how Office Web Apps works with SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint Workspace. Enjoy the podcast!


Office Web Apps Demo by Chris Bryant (requires Silverlight)

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