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.