A couple of weeks ago the Softies announced the availability of Microsoft Office Web Apps as a Technical Preview to a few thousand people by invitation. They also plan to make the beta available to the public at a later date. An online version of Office has always been expected and there has always been the argument that MS would have to provide any such service free of charge so as to compete with other such services like Google Docs and Zoho. There has also been the expectation that MS would not really be too interested in this service as it would dilute the importance of the desktop version of Office.
While this release of Office Web Apps is in no way ready to be reviewed, it is an indication that MS is getting jittery about the developments that rivals are making in cloud based applications. Google is continually adding new features to its offering and Zoho is just miles ahead of the competition thus far and have recently added Zoho Discussions to their suite of free online office applications. MS officials have stated that they are not interested in competing with either Google or Zoho in this space and that their service is more of a sharing and discussing tool rather than a tool for creating and editing documents. This is completely understandable considering that they would be damaging their desktop offering’s market substantially if they build in all the features into the online apps. However, they also risk losing a lot of revenue if Google Apps and Zoho type services continue to gain ground in the cloud space.
So while MS Office Web Apps may not be a Me-Too in Microsoft’s opinion, for a customer interested in taking up a paid subscription to the service, it will be an option to consider in the same light as a Google Apps or a Zoho. They would really not care about how MS intended the Office Web App to be used, they would only think about whether it can replace the desktop applications that they are paying for, and to this end they would most likely be disappointed. While other cloud based office apps will move forward with more and more features, MS Office Web Apps runs the risk of being left behind.