The Web-Based Productivity Suites War

Updated: October 27, 2009

Mid-September marked the arrival of an online version of Microsoft Office — Web-based browser versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and One Note. Based in the cloud, the suite is officially dubbed Microsoft Office Web Applications and is available to a select number of Windows Live SkyDrive users. All of the documents and files created and stored in the Office suite will be hosted in SkyDrive's free online storage space. The public release of Office Web Applications is slated for the first half of 2010, just in time to be an integral part of the much-anticipated launch of Office 2010.

Although the invitation-only release of Microsoft Office Web Applications is intended to be an early first look rather than a feature-complete reveal, the preview promises to give competitors such as Google, Zoho and Adobe a run for their money. That's because Office Web Applications is also focused on collaboration, enabling users to work anywhere using lightweight Web browser versions of its productivity tools that provide access to documents from virtually anywhere and preserve the look and feel of a document regardless of device.

For now, testers of Office Web Applications will have access only to Word, Excel and PowerPoint to start with. Only Excel and PowerPoint currently enable users to create and edit files, and only Excel currently supports multi-authoring, whereby two or more users can work on the same document simultaneously. The applications are cross-platform, running in Internet Explorer, Firefox or Safari with a single exception: Office Web Applications doesn't work on Google's Chrome browser.

Looking to the future, Microsoft recently announced that Office Web Applications will be available in three ways: through Windows Live, where more than 400 million consumers will have access to Office Web applications at no cost; on-premise for all Office volume licensing customers, including more than 90 million Office annuity customers; and via Microsoft Online Services, where customers will be able to purchase a subscription as part of a hosted offering.

While Microsoft Office Web Applications promises to allow users to share documents with others and partake in simultaneous editing, it's not the only player to choose from. Key competitors include the following.

Adobe's Acrobat.com Collaboration Services
The site offers a set of online services to create and share documents, communicate in real time and support collaboration. With Acrobat.com, users can: swap large files without having to send bulky emails; store up to 5GB of files, accessible from anywhere with a Web browser; convert documents to PDF; create documents with Adobe Buzzword, an online word processor; and collaborate with Adobe ConnectNow web conferencing software.

Google Apps
Google Apps includes Google Docs (word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and forms), Google Video and Google Sites. Google's Web-based messaging and collaboration apps require no hardware or software and need minimal administration, creating significant cost savings. End users can use Microsoft Outlook for email, contacts and calendar as they transition to Gmail and Google Calendar. Mobile email, calendar and IM access means employees can be productive even when they're on the go. And Google guarantees that Google Apps will be available at least 99.9% of the time for minimum system downtime.

Early reviews of Microsoft Office Web Applications reveal that its tools run more slowly than Google's lightweight counterparts, but Microsoft promises more features and more robust capabilities, targeting users with sophisticated and feature-rich requirements.

Zoho Office for SharePoint
Zoho Office's multi-user concurrent editing capabilities allow several users to open the same document at the same time, with everyone being able to contribute to the document in real-time. Data is kept secure behind a corporate firewall and remains in-house. Users access Microsoft SharePoint through a browser, which means it can be accessed through a great number of devices for easy accessibility.

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