Hands-on: Microsoft's Office Web Apps

Microsoft's online competitor to Google Apps looks good, but lags in some significant features.

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PowerPoint

The Technical Preview of PowerPoint has fewer features than Excel. Creating new presentations from the Web at this point is rudimentary, at best. You can't, for example, apply themes or backgrounds, use animations between slides, or, frankly, do much beyond creating new slides.

However, adding new slides is exceptionally easy, and works much like it does in the client version of PowerPoint. And as with Excel, when you open documents that you created in the client version of PowerPoint, they look online exactly as they do when on your PC. You can also play presentations as a slideshow, and the presentation includes all the animations and special effects that you created in the client version of Office.

As with Excel, you won't be able to edit files created with an older Office file format -- no .ppt files. Unlike in Excel, when you open a .ppt file for editing, you have the option of immediately converting the file to .pptx, without having to go through the process of saving the file. Still, it would be better if it supported the .ppt format, just as if it would have been better if the Office Web Apps version of Excel supported the .xls format.

Word and OneNote

At this point, there's very little to be said about Word, because you cannot create new Word documents or edit existing ones in the Technical Preview. All you can do is view files. As with Excel and PowerPoint, though, the viewer is excellent -- files look identical to the ones stored on your PC. At launch, Word will lack one important feature of Excel and PowerPoint-- no simultaneous editing.

As for OneNote, it's not yet available in the Technical Preview, and as with Word, you won't be able to work simultaneously with others when it does launch.

What's missing

The biggest issue with Office Web Apps isn't what's here, but what's missing and will be missing at launch: the ability to synchronize your work in Office so that, wherever you are, you always have the latest versions of your documents.

For all of its look-and-feel mimicry of Microsoft Office, at heart the Web-based and the client-based versions of the software are surprisingly separate from one another. This lack of integration and synchronization will most likely lead to a great deal of confusion about where the latest version of a document is located.

Office Web Apps

For all its mimicry of Office, the online and Web-based apps are surprisingly separate.

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The problem is that there is no automatic synchronization between your work on your local PC and your work in Office Web Apps. Let's say you create a document in Microsoft Office, and want to work on it later when you're away from your machine. Before you leave, you'll have to remember to upload the document to Office Web Apps; if you forget, it won't be available to you.

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