The browser is still the bottleneck
The big reason OWA's feature set is lacking, compared to full-blown Office, is not because Microsoft is trying to gouge everyone not running Windows. It's because the very Web browser environment in which it's trying to create OWA is still so fragmented -- even in 2013! -- that it's ferociously hard to guarantee consistent behavior across browsers, let alone platforms.
Some of this can be inferred from the fact that OWA won't work in anything but read-only mode on phone browsers. Tablets are another story, though, since the browser situation there is a little more robust. Bradley used OWA on the iPad without noticeable issues, and Microsoft plans to add editing support for Android tablets over the next several months. (This also implies that OWA would be available for Firefox OS devices, although that platform still needs some ironing out.)
All this brings up another, even bigger question: Is Microsoft going to deliver as much of Office as it can (outside of Windows, that is) in the form of OWA rather than as platform-native apps for iOS or Android?
If Microsoft does so, it would mean having to develop for only one big moving target -- the Web -- instead of a slew of smaller ones. And it might well be the single most profitable way for Microsoft to move Office forward, instead of fighting for an ever-shrinking slice of desktop pie.
More worrying is whether some of the genuinely useful features in OWA, like the live simultaneous editing, are going to be left in the Web product exclusively and not back-ported to the desktop version of Office. That would leave a bad taste in the mouth. People want the option of using OWA, and not feel as if they're obliged to use it -- at least not yet.
OWA hasn't quite made it as a replacement for full-blown Office, but it's flanking it all the more impressively with each revision. What's more critical than OWA's own development path is how the choices made for it will shape the future of Office as a whole product, and not just as a nifty way to edit documents on the go.
This article, "Microsoft Office Web Apps takes great leap toward Office equality," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.