Microsoft announced yesterday that they had started a limited beta test of an online version of Microsoft Office:
Microsoft today announced the start of the Microsoft Office Web Apps Technical Preview program for consumers. Beginning today, a limited number of invitation-only participants will receive access to lightweight versions of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint on the Web through Windows Live. The Technical Preview is available in English and Japanese, with additional languages to be added later this fall.
Microsoft is also announcing the formal names for the Web-based applications. Together, the applications are called Office Web Apps. Individually, they include Word Web App, Excel Web App, PowerPoint Web App and OneNote Web App.
Office Web Apps are the online, lightweight versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. With Office Web Apps people can access, share and work on Office documents from virtually anywhere with an Internet connection — making it easy to bring ideas to life at home, school or work.
From what we’ve seen so far, people love that Office Web Apps offer a consistent and familiar Office experience, and that documents retain fidelity while working in the cloud or offline.
Starting today, a limited number of invitation-only participants will receive access to the Word Web App, Excel Web App and PowerPoint Web App through Windows Live Sky Drive. These Office Web Apps are part of the Office Technical Preview program, which means they aren’t feature-complete yet. The OneNote Web App and additional Office Web App features, including further integration with Microsoft Office 2010, will be available at a later date.
The great integration with Office gives people the ability to quickly and easily save and open documents from the Web, directly from Microsoft Office 2010. Seamless integration with Windows Live lets people access, edit and share with friends, family and co-workers anywhere.
Back in July, the beta program had been promised for August so Microsoft is a bit late. Note that Office Web Apps aren’t tied to Office 2010 (or even Windows) and Ed Bott notes that "Users will be able to upload, edit, and share files created using Office 2000 and later versions on PCs and Macs."
Also interesting is the branding and delivery:
PressPass: Why are you offering Office Web Apps through Windows Live? What does this mean for Windows Live customers?
Schultz: More than 500 million people around the world use Windows Live, giving our customers a powerful hub to organize their lives. With Windows Live, people can store and share information such as photos, contacts, calendars and documents, all in one place on Windows Live SkyDrive. With the addition of Office Web Apps, people will soon be able to go to Windows Live to create, edit, share and collaborate on Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, OneNote digital notebooks and Excel spreadsheets — online, with high fidelity.
In addition to Windows Live, businesses will be able to get Office Web Apps through volume license agreements and via subscription offering through Microsoft Online Services.
In case this isn’t clear – this means that Office Web Apps are free to any personal user just like Google Apps, the primary Web office application competitor. Sure, you can pay Microsoft for a business subscription (just like Google) and there is undoubtedly added synergy for paying Microsoft Office customers, but there must be a bit of fear and trepidation in Redmond over this self-created threat to one of their cash cows. The only question now is just how worthwhile are the applications that Microsoft is giving away for free and for that we will have to wait for user feedback to leak out.
The Wave 3 enhancements to Windows Live promised in November started rolling out today according to Dharmesh M. Mehta, Director of Windows Live Product Management:
Today we’ve started releasing the first set of updates to our web services, and these will continue to roll out globally over the next 24 hours – including a new version of Windows Live Home, Spaces, Events, and SkyDrive, as well as completely new web services such as Windows Live Groups, Photos, and Profile.
Mehta’s blog post has more details and some screen shots from which I have borrowed the following of Windows Live Profile, the social networking foundation that caused all the buzz when the Wave 3 features were revealed in November.
Click through for a larger image, but the idea is that " Your new profile is the place to decide what information about yourself you want to broadcast." much like Facebook or MySpace only for Windows Live. The added bonus is that it can also show your activity on other social networking services like Twitter, Flickr, and Yelp to mention a few. Not a bad approach when playing catch up.
So is Windows Live going to challenge Facebook or MySpace? I don’t see how unless it benefits from an incredible fad. Well then, will it be popular enough to be worth Microsoft’s expenditure? We’ll see and some of the specialized services may well have a life of their own.
Last night Microsoft announced Windows Live Wave 3 and besides the expected updates of existing Windows Live offerings, there was some social networking added to the stew:
Microsoft Corp. today announced the next generation of Windows Live, an integrated set of online services that make it easier and more fun for consumers to communicate and share with the people they care about most. The new generation of Windows Live includes updated experiences for photo sharing, e-mail, instant messaging, as well as integration with multiple third-party sites. The release also includes Windows Live Essentials, free downloadable software that enhances consumers’ Windows experience by helping them simplify and enjoy digital content scattered across their PC, phone and on Web sites.
Translation: Just as before, there are some purely Web pieces and some downloadable pieces of Windows Live and the latter are termed Windows Live Essentials and will complement Windows 7.
Consumers today are creating online content and sharing it in many places across the Web. To help make is simple for the more than 460 million Windows Live customers to keep their friends up to date, Microsoft is collaborating with leading companies including Flickr, LinkedIn Corp., Pandora Media Inc., Photobucket Inc., Twitter, WordPress and Yelp Inc. to integrate activities on third-party sites into Windows Live through a new profile and What’s New feed. The new Windows Live also gives consumers the added convenience of having a central place to organize and manage information.
“Think of Windows Live as the single place where people using our e-mail, messaging and photo-sharing services can stay connected,” said Chris Jones, corporate vice president of Windows Live Experience Program Management at Microsoft. “Our customers have friends across the Web. They communicate through many unconnected Web services and want access to it all from a single location — without worrying about how it’s done. Now Windows Live takes care of that, with an integrated personal communication service that works across the Web with optimized experiences on the PC and mobile phone.”
In a nutshell, Microsoft is creating a Windows Live “dashboard” for individual information management incorporating the activities of the users and their friends across a number of non-Microsoft as well as Microsoft sites.
Some other changes:
Microsoft is currently in the middle of phase 3 of a five phase rollout of Wave 3 with no crisp endpoint date. More detail on all of this is available in the Windows Live Wave 3 Reviewer’s Guide.
My first take is that Microsoft has done a nice job of trying to bring order out of the Windows Live chaos, although there are still too many “products” with the Windows Live brand confusing the picture. Think of how much nicer it would have been if Windows Live had always been a unitary product that periodically got feature upgrades. But I digress – Wave 3 is nonetheless an important step for unifying Windows Live even if it never attracts a Facebook-type audience.
Last week, Microsoft took the beta tag off their free Windows Live SkyDrive online storage service and raised the storage limit to 5GB. SkyDrive is now available to users in 38 countries. As I have observed previously, online storage services are hardly novel. If you would like even more free online storage, you can get 25 GB right now at MediaMax. Still, I suppose SkyDrive rounds out the Windows Live “user experience” and is miles ahead of Yahoo’s Briefcase which only offers 25 MB.