While the rest of the world was watching the Windows 8 launch, Microsoft quietly updated its Office Web Apps. The apps are now closely tied to the company’s SkyDrive personal cloud service and to Outlook.com.
Microsoft has new web versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. You can read the company’s official propaganda about its new apps in the Office blog.
The first thing you’ll notice about the web apps is they all sport a beautiful clean, minimalist look.
This isn’t just a cosmetic update. Over the last year just about every Microsoft product and website has been through a major design refresh. Everything has been dramatically simplified, with all the complexity hidden from sight.
In the case of the Word Web App, it now has a user interface that stays out of your way. Fonts render beautifully and are easy to read. This is especially noticeable if you use Internet Explorer 10 or an Apple iOS6 devices – more about that in a moment.
You’ll get much the same visual experience on a desktop, a tablet or a phone.
Simpler design means it is easier to find your way around and there are fewer distractions. There’s also a consistency to everything Microsoft – no matter what device or application, everything feels familiar. These all add up to fewer errors and better productivity.
Familiarity breeds content
Word Web App’s main advantage is compatibility with desktop versions of Microsoft Word. Most of us know Word intimately – there’s no need to learn new keyboard commands. Many of the most used desktop functions are included. You can view documents, add comments and alter the format directly from a browser.
The web app will keep all the formatting in Word documents – something that’s never been easy when moving between different classes of device.
Interoperability with traditional versions of Microsoft Word is comforting for the editors I work with, most expect to see my stories, features and other work land on their desk in the familiar Word format. They’ll never know what I used to create the documents.
I particularly love the way Word Web Apps works with Skydrive and the way I can switch documents between the web app and the preview desktop version of Word 2013. There’s something surreal about having the same document open in two places and having the web app tell me “2 PEOPLE EDITING”.
Surprisingly good on the iPad
It should come as no surprise to learn the Word Web App works well on both versions of Internet Explorer 10 that come as part of WIndows 8. And of course you can open and work with documents when using a Windows tablet.
I was pleasantly surprised when, away from my desk and equipped with just an iPad, I opened a Word Web App document using the iPad SkyDrive app and found it easy to edit. It works better than I expected.
This opens up new territory for Microsoft, the app makes a first-rate, although basic, iPad word processor. I still prefer iA Writer for that job, but I’d be happy to use Word Web App as an on-th-go writing tool.
Rumour has it Microsoft is readying a full version of Office for the iPad, I can’t comment on that, what I can say is the Office Web Apps deliver everything I need.
Likewise, when I left the house one day thinking I had sent a document to a client well before deadline, (but in fact forgetting to hit the send key), I saved the day and my payment by hopping on to SkyDrive using my smartphone and resending the document.