In the past few weeks, I’ve posted a few articles comparing several web-base word processing and spreadsheet applications. For the word processors, I focused on Google Docs, Zoho Writer, ThinkFree, and Adobe Buzzword and for the spreadsheets; Google Docs, Zoho Sheet, ThinkFree, and Sheetster. Based on my review, Zoho and ThinkFree were the best online word processors, and Zoho Sheet was the runaway winner for spreadsheets.
The one major provider that provides web-based productivity suites that I was not able to review was Microsoft. At the time of my original postings, Microsoft had not fully released their versions of Microsoft Office Web Apps. Office Web Apps is Microsoft’s answer to the Google Docs, ThinkFree, and Zoho web-based office suites. This post will provide a brief review of both the Word and Excel web-based applications.
The ‘Excel Web Apps’ Review:
The first tool I tried with Office Web Apps was Excel. I uploaded the same test file that I used in the original web-based spreadsheet test I did a few weeks ago to Microsoft’s data storage site (dubbed Skydrive) that doubles as the access point to their web-based office suite.
To my surprise, the file would not even open! This was definitely a significant negative to me. All of the other programs (Google, ThinkFree, and Zoho) were able to at least load the file, even if all the functionality associated with the VBA macros and PivotTables that were included in the test file were not available. I then went back and opened the file in my desktop version of Excel and removed both the macros and the PivotTables and tried again. I was able to open the file.
After opening the file, I was pleasantly surprised out how nice the user’s interface was. Microsoft did an excellent job at maintaining a consistent feel between their Office 2010 desktop and online versions. For the most part, all of the basic functions worked well and were included within the program. Most advanced features did not work in the online version of Excel. The VLOOKUP tables did work well.
Pros: Great user interface consistent with desktop version, speed, drag-and-drop uploading through SkyDrive
Cons: Not able to import Excel files with advanced features, lack of advanced functionality, folder structure in SkyDrive
The ‘Word Web Apps’ Review:
When I tried the web-based Word application, I had similar feelings to those I had when reviewing the web-based Excel. I uploaded the same test file that I used in the original web-based word processing test and started to review the document.
The test file imported well. There were a couple of areas where the graphics were not justified correctly, but it was easy to fix that. I liked how user interface had the same feel as the Office 2010 desktop version and was easy use. Like the web-based Excel version, only basic functions were included within the web-based version.
Overall, I thought the web-based version of Word performed about the same as the other programs previously reviewed (Google Docs, Zoho, ThinkFree, Adobe), even though it did not have all of the advanced functionality of some of the other programs.
Pros: Nice interface, easy upload, consistent import
Cons: Lack of advanced functionality, some graphical import problems.
I was pleasantly surprised with Microsoft Office Web Apps. With a few tweaks and with the addition of some advanced features, I think it could easily outperform all of the other competitors. One thing that I am not aware of is how the licensing works. I own versions of Office XP, 2003, and 2007 and did not have any problems accessing and creating files on SkyDrive.
I believe that web-based office suites are still in their infancy. If Microsoft is able to respond to customer’s demands, work out licensing issues that can compete with companies like Google and Zoho, and invest in more advanced features, I think they can still hold a large portion of the market for the foreseeable future.