Last week saw a flurry of media headlines, happy talk, and regurgitated factoids about Office Web Apps. With Microsoft paving the way for its biggest Office bet yet, the patented hype machine's gears have already started groaning.
Office Web Apps, as we were told on the official Office Web Apps blog, are marching stoutly out to the rest of civilization:
Starting today, people in over 150 more countries can use the Web Apps to view, edit, and share Office documents from anywhere with a browser and an internet connection. This includes viewing, editing, and sharing Office document attachments in Hotmail. The 150 new locations include India, Indonesia, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, and Thailand. Next month is the global finale -- when the Web Apps will reach the entire world, with a roll-out to all remaining markets in Central and South America, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.
If that non sequitur leaves you wondering about parts of the world outside Central and South America, you aren't alone.
Similarly worded articles popped up like mushrooms in trade press night soil. They all seemed to overlook a simple fact: the Office Web Apps collection has been available to anybody, anywhere in the world, since they first shipped last June. The simple trick was (and is) to go to the Windows Live website. Of course, anybody with a VPN connection to North America or Europe could've participated long ago, too.
Microsoft appears to be localizing some of the language versions, but it isn't clear from the blog post -- or from extensive experimentation -- exactly which localized languages are available or how they're invoked. But never mind. It looks good in print. Any press is good press, eh?
Making the four Office Web apps usable worldwide is a key precursor to the launch of Office 365: The online Web Apps make the promised Office 365 collaboration possible. What we're seeing now is the vanguard of a massive publicity assault that is due to reach a crescendo in the next six months or so.