Faced with the growing strength of online productivity apps such as Google's Apps for Business, Microsoft is rolling out updates to its Office Web Apps to support Android tablets. The update will also include real-time collaboration more comparable to that capability in Google Apps.
Users access free Office Web Apps, which were first launched in 2010, via a browser, and they come with 7 GB of storage on the company's online SkyDrive.
In a posting Tuesday on the company's Office 365 blog, technical product marketing manager Amanda Lefebvre said the company's goal is to provide Office Web Apps to users for creating "polished Office documents from start to finish, all from the Web." The new update adds the ability to use the Apps on Android tablets through the Chrome browser, in addition to its current support for Windows 8 tablets and Apple iPads.
SaaS 'Is the Future'
Co-authoring allows multiple editors to work on the same document at the same time, whether users are employing Office Web Apps or Office desktop applications. The updated co-authoring, being rolled out to the online apps beginning with PowerPoint, will allow users to see edits even without refreshing the page. Currently, collaborative editing in Office Web Apps requires users to save first.
One of the most dramatic moves toward applications that reside or are distributed through the cloud came this week when Adobe announced it would no longer update boxed sets of its Creative Suite of core applications, but would distribute the latest versions of Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, InDesign and others exclusively through its Creative Cloud. This cloud-centricity makes its easier for users to upgrade, solves much of the company's bootleg problem, provides additional services such as collaboration, and allows the company's software development team to concentrate on the cloud-based versions.
Clint Patterson, director of communications for Office, wrote Tuesday on the Microsoft Office News blog that his company, like Adobe, believes "subscription software-as-a-service is the future." He added that, for Microsoft, the benefits include keeping subscribers up to date with the latest applications, use of the same files and apps from multiple devices, and the easier integration of Web features like SkyDrive online storage or Skype for voice/text/video communication.
Quarter Chose Subscription
However, Patterson said, "unlike Adobe, we think people's shift from packaged software to subscription services will take time," with "everyone" choosing to subscribe by the end of this decade. In the meantime, he said, Microsoft will offer a choice between packaged software and online subscriptions. He noted that a quarter of consumers choosing to buy Microsoft Office since January have chosen the subscription route.
Michael Silver, vice president at industry research firm Gartner , called the update "pretty interesting" in that it shows Microsoft is "obviously trying to keep up with Google." Perhaps Microsoft is doing this, he suggested, to "make up for the delay in releasing its mobile apps."