September 17, 2009, 3:57 PM — Microsoft today launched a limited beta test of its Office Web Apps, the company's first public unveiling of its rival for Google's Web applications.
Dubbed a "technical preview" by Microsoft to denote that it's by invitation only, Office Web Apps will be available on the company's Windows Live site via a special "Documents" tab, a company spokeswoman said. "Tens of thousands have been invited to participate in the Technical Preview," said the spokeswoman in a reply to questions.
"This is earlier than I expected," said Rob Helm, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash.-based research company that specializes in tracking Microsoft's moves. "I thought we wouldn't see this until the SharePoint conference at the end of October. Maybe the recent Google moves had some bearing on Microsoft's timing."
Helm's reference was to Google's announcement Tuesday that the search giant will offer online services next year, including Google Web Apps, that are specially designed for U.S. government agencies.
Office Web Apps includes lightweight, online versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, the desktop Office suite's word processor, spreadsheet and presentation maker, respectively. In July, Microsoft announced that the online applications would be available free-of-charge on Windows Live and to workers at companies with an Office Software Assurance plan. The online editions will also be available as a paid subscription service for firms that don't buy into Software Assurance.
Microsoft gave the three applications available in the preview their official titles today: Word Web App, Excel Web App and PowerPoint Web App.
Nick Simons, a Microsoft program manager for Office Web Apps, called the functionality of the online software "modest" today on a company blog . Initially, testers won't be able to edit Word documents online, only view them, although they can create, view and edit Excel worksheets and PowerPoint presentations.
OneNote Web App, a scaled-down version of Office's note taker, will be added later, Simons said.
Michael Schultz, Microsoft's director of marketing for Office, echoed Simons. "They aren't feature-complete yet," he acknowledged in a Q&A Microsoft created, and then posted, to its press site. "The OneNote Web App and additional Office Web App features, including further integration with Microsoft Office 2010, will be available at a later date."