>> Hi. This is Rafe Needleman from CNET with a First Look at the technical preview of Microsoft's Office Web Apps.
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>> That's right. You will soon be able to get Microsoft Office through a web browser -- sort of. Let's look at this very early version of the service, released to just a small handful of people so far. Now, before I get into this, let me reiterate that this is a technical preview. That means it's not even alpha yet. Tons of features are not here yet, and performance isn't what it should be either. But we can see Microsoft's philosophy for its online suite in this demo. Office Web Apps will be free when it's made public, which Microsoft says will be in the first half of 2010. So let's take a look. The most interesting app of the suite is Excel. It's like the spreadsheet in Google Docs, in that if more than one person is editing a file at the same time, they'll all see each other's changes in real time. No more saving and reloading. It's a great feature for collaboration. And Excel will do a lot more than Google Spreadsheet. Basically, it's a slimmed down version of the Excel that you get on the desktop. You get the same ribbon bar interface, which is great for people moving between PC and Web Apps. You've got conditional formatting, charts, column sorting, and so on. Everything came through fine when we transferred files from Windows to the web. You might not be able to edit everything just yet, but you can see it all. PowerPoint also works well as a web app. Again, not everything is here yet, but you can add new slides to PowerPoint presentations, move things around, and make edits. Then you can display your slideshow in a nearly full-screen view. For presenters worried about the hassle of connecting their laptop computer to a projector to make a presentation, this is a great fallback. Word, however, isn't yet turned on for online editing, although we're told it will be for the 2010 release. But the news is not good if you're hoping that Microsoft will compete with Google Docs as a web app. The online version of Word won't offer simultaneous editing. Only one person will be able to open and change a file at the same time, although others will be able to view it. Microsoft says they're working to bring group editing to Word eventually. The biggest problem, though, with Office Web Apps is the way you share files with others. To share a file, you have to put it into a folder, and then share the folder. That's no big deal if you're just sharing one file, but if you want to share different files with different groups of people, it's confusing and tedious since you have to create a different folder for each set of people you want to share with. If you want to change the sharing specifics on one document to the folder, but not on others, you'll have to move that document to a different folder. And there's not even a clear share link. You have to find the "shared with" entry in each folder, click on "people I selected link," then edit permissions. Yuck. I hope Microsoft rethinks and reworks the sharing mechanisms before this thing goes public. Microsoft, look at how Google does it. But again, this is an early version of Office Web Apps. When the service goes public in early 2010, it will be free and accessible from Windows Live SkyDrive. Users will get 25 gigabytes of free storage for their documents. Enterprise customers will be able to host their own instances of Office Web Apps on SharePoint servers. That's been a First Look at the technical preview of Office Web Apps. For CNET, I'm Rafe Needleman.
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