Today Microsoft announced a number of improvements that it intends to roll out to its Office Web Apps productivity suite. Core to the updates are bettered collaboration, feature improvements, and Android tablet support.
Office Web Apps, part of the Office 365 product and offered to consumers as part of SkyDrive, are not Microsoft’s most popular product by a stretch. Frankly, preparing for this story I tried to fire up the Web-based version of Word, but had forgotten how to access it; I googled the product name, and then ended in my SkyDrive account.
Over the next 12 months, Microsoft intends to bolster the features present in the applications that comprise Office Web Apps, including, it noted in a blog post, “adding find and replace in Word Web App to improving the general experience by speeding up launch times and making file management simpler.” Find and replace will be a welcome addition indeed, but is small compared to the fact that Microsoft intends to directly challenge Google Docs with functional, real-time collaboration.
Microsoft calls this “real time co-authoring.” The capability will be present across the suite, and will allow users to see other folks in their documents and spreadsheets, and their edits as they happen. This is required function for any current online document editing tool.
Microsoft also intends to bring Office Web Apps to Android via Chrome, or what Microsoft calls “mobile Chrome browser support.”
The lack of mention of iOS in the above news is telling; the chance that Microsoft is ignoring that platform is small, but leaked documents have indicated that Office for iOS as a product could be as far off as October 2014. There is a book to be written about how Microsoft handled the Office for iOS product, I’m sure.
Still, landing on Android is a good move for the company, as it will extend the Office product to the millions of Android tablets that are out in the market, without requiring Microsoft to build native apps that it would then have to support across a fragmented platform.
Office Web Apps are an important part of the Office 365 product offering, and they are not as good as they might, and need to be. However, over the next 12 months, things should improve.