Office Web Apps becoming more desktop-like

To more closely tie its Office Web Apps to its on-premises Office offerings, Microsoft will provide an update that boosts collaboration and touch.

As Microsoft moves to makes its Office Web Apps look and feel more like their on-premises counterparts, IT interest is on the upswing.

Microsoft soon will roll out updates to its Office Web Apps -- browser-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote -- that will culminate in a service update for its SharePoint Online offering sometime early next year. The updated apps will provide improved touch capabilities for Windows 8 devices, as well as additional tools and features for co-authoring and collaboration, according to a Microsoft wiki post.

That might help Microsoft create more seamless ties among its Web-based Office applications, locally installed Office offerings and Office 365 in the cloud, IT pros and other experts said. SharePoint Service Update 4 (SU4) will bring Office Web Apps several steps closer to parity with the other versions of Office by offering more compatibility with the on-premises version's collaboration capabilities.

One of the new capabilities in SharePoint SU4 is that users can co-author documents with the Office Web Apps and the Office desktop apps simultaneously. "There's a lot more mobile collaboration going on these days than before," said Dennis Martin, president of the Rocky Mountain Windows Technology User Group in Denver. "With mobile co-authoring, you can have the same experience whether you're out of the office or in the office."

Wes Miller, research vice president at Kirkland, Wash.-based research group Directions on Microsoft, agreed. "[With the update], it's an equal citizen on a tablet or a phone, even though Office wasn't designed for touch," he said.

Interest in the pending arrival of the update is mixed, however. IT pros at Red Wing Shoe Co. in Red Wing, Minn. are looking forward to the new Office Web Apps, but they're more interested in the Web-based Outlook client for Exchange Server, said Mike Cleary, director of IT architecture and operations at the company.

Last week, Microsoft released Office 2013, the new on-premises version of Office, to manufacturing. It will be generally available during the first quarter of 2013, but enterprise customers with Software Assurance will be able to download the code as soon as next month, the company said.

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