October 04, 2010, 10:25 AM — When Microsoft launched its Office Web Apps back in June, the most logical reaction was a simple, “What took you so long?” Competitors such as Google Docs and Zoho proved long ago that it’s possible to host free Office-like programs on the Internet and deliver them to any Web browser—for free. They’ve improved over the years, gaining more and more fans along the way.
Microsoft may have finally joined the Web-office game, but in many ways it’s still playing catch-up. The Office Web Apps are radically less powerful than their counterparts for OS X and Windows; given how mature Office’s traditional-software versions are, that’s no shocker. But the Office Web Apps are also much skimpier than Google Docs and Zoho, both of which come closer to replicating most of Office’s mainstay features.
The Office Web Apps might be worth checking out if you find yourself temporarily using a computer without Office 2011 and need to take a peek at a document or do some very light editing. But if your needs are more than rudimentary and you thought the Office Web Apps would let you use Office without plunking down money for Office 2011, forget it.
The consumer versions of the Office Web Apps are part of Microsoft’s Windows Live service, which means you’ll need a Windows Live ID to use them, and you’ll be exposed to a few ads. (The only ads in the Web Apps themselves are one-line text promos for Office’s desktop version.) You store documents using Windows Live’s SkyDrive online-storage service, which gives you 25GB of free space. And if you happen to be a user of the recently improved Hotmail, well-done integration lets you open file attachments in Microsoft’s file formats in the appropriate Web apps, no downloading required.
Businesses, incidentally, can roll out separate versions of the Web Apps that are built to work with the SharePoint collaboration system rather than with SkyDrive.
Web-based software suite