Office Web Apps upgrade offers better iPad experience

This Web-hosted version of Office also features enhanced performance and improved editing, formatting and collaboration features

By , IDG News Service |  Software

Office Web Apps, launched in 2010, offers a subset of the features found in the PC-installed Office version and is intended primarily as a complement to it, not a replacement. It contains online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.

Office Web Apps is a component of the SkyDrive cloud storage service and of the new webmail service Outlook.com. Office Web Apps is also part of the Office 365 cloud-hosted collaboration and messaging suite, which also includes online versions of Exchange, Lync and SharePoint.

This Office Web Apps upgrade, in preview tests since July, is now live on SkyDrive and Outlook.com, Microsoft said Monday. A spokeswoman added that it's being rolled out to Office 365 customers as well, a process expected to be completed by the end of the year.

In addition to the iOS improvements, Office Web Apps has also been tweaked to work better with the final versions of Internet Explorer 10 and Windows 8.

There are also feature improvements in areas such as document authoring, touch interface, collaboration and performance, amounting to what Microsoft described in July as the most significant update of the product to date.

Editing, layout and formatting features have been beefed up, while the interface has been optimized for touch-based screens such as those in tablets, following the design of the new Windows 8 interface, formerly called Metro.

In Monday's blog post, Microsoft specifically highlighted improved rendering of graphics, images and layouts in Word, as well as new capabilities to view and add comments to documents.

Meanwhile, Excel offers what Microsoft calls "essential" spreadsheet features such as merging cells and auto-fitting of columns, while PowerPoint now lets users play back video and audio from presentations, as well as do joint editing and commenting for collaboration. OneNote now features the ability to search on a page or within a section.

Microsoft also said it improved the performance of Office Web Apps, so that basic operations such as typing and formatting don't slow down as documents get larger. The performance improvements are particularly noticeable in Excel and PowerPoint, according to Microsoft.

Office Web Apps is used by about 50 million people per month, according to Microsoft.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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