The future may be the cloud, but it also may be Microsoft that ushers us into that realm of possibility and imagination, . Today, Redmond unveiled as a part of Office 2010 a suite of Microsoft Office Web apps that will compete directly with Google Docs. While Microsoft isn't letting anyone play around with the apps just yet, on paper, Microsoft's Web apps look like they could blow Google's online services out of the water -- beta or no beta.
Forget about the half measures of Office Live Workspace; Microsoft's new Web apps will let you create, edit, and save documents right online. Here's a quick head-to-head between Google and Microsoft Web apps.
(See related: Visual Overview of Office 2010 Features)
For personal users, Microsoft's Web apps will cost the same as Google Docs: nothing. All you'll need is a Window Live ID, and you'll be able to use Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint, and Word online for free.
Look and Feel
Google Docs has a very nice basic feel to it, in keeping with the simplicity and ease of use that Google brings to its products. Microsoft, however, has no qualms about complicating things, and this time that attitude may yield good results. Microsoft says its Web apps will have a similar look and feel as their desktop counterparts, including the Ribbon feature. Microsoft also promises the Web versions of your formatted documents will render properly in most browsers, including Internet Explorer, Safari, and Firefox. There's no word on Microsoft's plans for the Chrome or Opera browsers.
Winner: Microsoft. You may have to switch browsers if you're a Chrome head or Opera freak, but that's a small price to pay for the look and feel of Microsoft Office in your Web browser.
One of the strong suits of Google Docs is real-time collaboration in the Web browser. Microsoft is bringing similar functionality and calling it co-authoring. What's not clear, however, is how exactly co-authoring works. Microsoft says you must save a document to a SharePoint server or a Windows Live site before you can collaborate, but the company doesn't say whether you can work together on a document right from the Web browser or if you need to use the desktop version. It's also not clear whether co-authoring works only on a private network, or if you can collaborate via the World Wide Web. I've asked Microsoft to clarify.
Winner: Google. Real-time collaboration right from the Web browser is a winning feature for ease of use and Google Docs will work from almost any computer with connectivity. Until Microsoft explains itself more clearly, we'll assume co-authoring will be limited.
Both Google and Microsoft will let you create presentations and do limited editing online. Microsoft says PowerPoint's Web app will let you pick a theme, edit slide layout, add or remove slides, edit text, and add animations. PowerPoint online will also give you the choice of full-screen presentations, while Google has a near full-screen view.
Both Google and Microsoft give you the capability to instantly share your presentation online. Google lets you share through the browser and connect to anyone with a Google account. Microsoft, on the other hand, is keeping it in the family, since instant PowerPoint sharing will be dependent on the Microsoft Office add-on Communicator 2007 R2.
New desktop features included in PowerPoint include basic video and image editing.
Winner: Google. Both presentation apps are almost equal in terms of functionality, and depend on desktop versions for deeper editing power. But Google's capability to share with anyone in the world right through the Web browser gives it a slight lead over the extra features of Microsoft's Web app.
What can I say about spreadsheets to get you excited? Not much; you're still going to be stuck in a world of macros, formulas, cells, and rows. Microsoft Excel's Web app will allow co-authoring and you can use the same Excel formulas you know from the desktop version. But Excel online will be a reduced version of its desktop counterpart. Microsoft also says it will simplify online sharing for Excel documents allowing you to easily publish a spreadsheet to blogs, wikis or other Web sites.
Winner: Microsoft. The familiarity of Excel, plus the claim of easy Web publishing may push Excel over top of Google spreadsheets.
The world's most popular word processor should have Google running scared. If Microsoft comes through on its promise to deliver a desktop look and feel to the online version of Word, it could be all over for Google. Both Google and Microsoft will allow you to create tables, bullets and styles and have spell checkers, but Word online will also give you auto-correct.
Winner : Microsoft (for now). Auto-correct is a nice feature, but I will also give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt and assume its editing features are going to be deeper than Google's since it can port more features online from Word. I may be proven wrong.
According to my calculations, Microsoft just barely comes out on top with a score of three to two and one tie. However, Microsoft is making some big promises with its Web apps, and since no one has seen them yet it's hard to know for sure how well they'll work. Google may also stage an even bigger challenge to Microsoft later this year since the company is promising that Google Docs will undergo "dramatic changes in the next 12 months."
Microsoft's Web apps will be available to technical preview users later this year, although with limited functionality. The rest of us will get our hands on Microsoft Office Web apps during the first half of 2010.
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