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Microsoft To Expand Office Web Apps Capabilities, Add Android Support

Microsoft on Tuesday announced a future effort to improve its Office Web Apps, including adding Google Chrome browser support for mobile Android devices and improved collaboration capabilities.

Currently, Office Web Apps "are officially supported" on Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 and later browser versions on Windows. They are supported on Mozilla Firefox 3.5 and later versions for Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems. Office Web Apps currently run on Apple Safari 4 and later versions on the Mac. Office Web Apps also are supported on Chrome for the Mac, according to Microsoft's description, but the new addition to come will be support for Chrome on Android operating systems.

That change, plus improvements in collaboration capabilities for Office Web Apps, will be happening "over the next year and beyond," according to Microsoft's announcement on Tuesday, so it's still a ways off.

Microsoft also indicated that it plans to change how the coauthoring editing functionality works in Office Web Apps to make it function more in "real time" when groups of people simultaneously work on a document. The coauthoring function has been a work in progress for Microsoft, but it claims that users of shared PowerPoint Web App presentations can see the faster coauthoring capabilities today that are planned for the other Office Web Apps programs.

Microsoft's move to enable support for Office Web Apps on Android appears to be partly meeting the cries of Wall Street for the company to better monetize Office on competing OS platforms. That's presently being done with Office for Mac, but there's no Office suite for desktops or tablets that use the Linux-based Android OS. In January, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer commented on the idea of bringing Office to the Apple iPad. He was noncommittal on doing that, but he said at the time that "we do have a way for people always to get to Office through the browser, which is very important."

Office Web Apps is one way to get Office-like applications in a browser on a PC or Mac. On smartphones, most Office Web Apps are supported in browsers for Android, iPhone and Windows Phone mobile OSes via Microsoft's Office Mobile Viewers technology. Apparently, the format of Office Web Apps can be changed to better support different device sizes, according to this Microsoft blog post.

Office Web Apps include browser-based versions of Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint and Word. They aren't fully featured Office versions, but Microsoft has matched many of the document formatting display similarities between Office Web Apps and premises-installed Microsoft Office applications. One limitation for Office Web Apps compared with the Microsoft Office Suite is that Office Web Apps currently lack offline editing support.

"Real file editors with offline capability for iPads and Android tablets would help Microsoft bring in more revenue from tablets than it gets now from Windows tablets, and from client licenses for server products (like the Office Web Apps) and services like Office 365," commented Rob Helm, managing vice president at independent consultancy Directions on Microsoft, back in February. "Longer-term, the editors would also help slow down competitors like [Google] QuickOffice being incubated in tablets."

Microsoft offers free access to Office Web Apps for consumers via its no-cost SkyDrive cloud-based storage service. Organizations, in contrast, have to pay to use Office Web Apps, but they get corporate-grade applications with security lock downs. Microsoft's enterprise-grade collaboration and cloud-based storage space is called "SkyDrive Pro," which is a hosted SharePoint implementation.

Corporate-grade Office Web Apps are available through Microsoft's various Office 365 services plans, which tap Microsoft's new Office Web Apps Server infrastructure, which allows operations to scale. Office Web Apps also are available to organizations that have deployed SharePoint Server 2010 or SharePoint Server 2013, as well to those companies that have deployed Office 2013 on premises, according to a Microsoft TechNet overview description.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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