Is it Microsoft Office in the browser at last? Ever since Microsoft launched Windows Live, Microsoft watchers have been speculating on when browser-based versions of Office applications would arrive, and what they’d look like.
That’s why last week’s announcement of an unprecedented, browser-based “test drive” of the latest beta version of Office 2007 was greeted with some excitement. Without having to download beta software, users can experience the next version of Office online through Internet Explorer. Was this the coming-out party for Microsoft’s Live strategy, which so far has offered little more than user-customizable home pages and Web hosting?
Not quite. True, customers with IE 6 or later can visit Microsoft’s Web site to try out the full suite of beta Office 2007 applications: Access, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, SharePoint, and so on. But those expecting snazzy AJAX versions of the entire Office 2007 suite will be bitterly disappointed. The new beta is simply a remote session connection, via Citrix, to Microsoft servers running the Office beta.
Not surprisingly, those hosted sessions soon became choke points for the legions of Office users anxious to try their hand at the next generation applications. User wait time for a session last week was typically more than two hours. Those hungry for the latest beta may well opt for the downloadable version after all.
The shift to a browser-based hosted beta after the release of two conventional betas of Office 2007 was an effort to avoid conflicts with Office documents already saved on a system, Microsoft said.
Normally, when a user downloads a new version of Office to a Windows machine -- even a beta -- it replaces any earlier version of Office that may have been installed. The browser-based version eliminates the problem.
So the wait for Microsoft’s Live versions of Office continues. Meanwhile, the Google wares such as the Writerly word processor and new Google Spreadsheet beta remain the best previews of what browser-based productivity software will look like.