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December 18, 2010

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Microsoft Office Web Apps Versus Google Docs

Comparing Google Docs with Office Web Apps

Scoroncocolo, Scoroncocolo Tech Pages, ScarewareBack in June of this year Microsoft launched a free version of Office Web Apps meant to compete with Google Docs. In this article I compare the two. Which is the better? What are they exactly? How are they different? Which, if either, should you decide to use?

Microsoft Office Web Apps Is Taking On Google Docs

Microsoft Office Web Apps Is Taking On Google Docs

On November 21st of this year (2010) I wrote an article published on this site about Google Docs in which I said that I soon intended to write an another article about Microsoft's answer to Google Docs which Microsoft released only in June of this year called Microsoft Office Web Apps.

Microsoft has a mind-boggling jumble of online Web applications for creating, editing, sharing and storing documents. For instance is the subject of the article I'm about to write but not the same thing. Well, it is but it isn't. And then there's Microsoft BPOS, Office Live Workspace, Azure, Exchange, Lync and SharePoint - and what am I leaving out? And coming soon is Microsoft Office 365. Confusing isn't it?

Leaving all that aside, I'd like to talk to you about one of Microsoft's newest online applications called Office Web Apps. This is the suite of web applications that most closely resemble Google Docs. One of the very nice things that Google Docs and Microsoft Office Web Apps have in common is that they are both absolutely free to use. Google stores your Google Docs on their servers and gives you 1 gigabite of free storage space. Microsoft stores your Office Web Apps in your SkyDrive account and gives you a very generous 25 gigs of storage space for free. Back in December of 2008, I wrote lengthy piece on SkyDrive.

Although Google Docs has been around since 2006 it wasn't until June of this year that Microsoft rolled out Office Web Apps. Office Web Apps is very similar to Google Docs. Like Google Docs, Microsoft's Office Web Apps allows you to create relatively sophisticated word processor documents, spreadsheets and PowerPoint Presentations using no software other than a modern Web browser. Supported browsers are Internet Explorer 7 and later, Mozilla Firefox 3.5 and later, Google Chrome, and Safari 4. Office Web Apps doesn't work well in the Opera browser but neither does Google Docs.

The first thing you need to do to get started using Office Web Apps is to get a free Microsoft Live account which you already have if you have a HotMail account. If you don't have a Live account, you can sign up for one here Once you have an account and have logged in, click Office on the menu bar. Now to create a new document just select the New button. To upload a file, click the Add Files button which is just to the right of the New button. You can use this to load all of your desktop created Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files up to the cloud. But don't worry, they'll only be copied to your SkyDrive account and not physically moved there.

Once you have files on your SkyDrive account, you can begin working with them. If you click a file, it will open in preview mode. If you want to edit a file you do so by hovering your mouse over the file and clicking the Edit option. Hovering over a file gives you many other options as well like choosing to share them or more. If you click More, you will see offered: Version History, Move, Copy, Rename, Download and Properties. Working with files in an online application is very similar to working with files on a desktop application. With a little practice, you'll have no problems at all. Of course the online version of Word, Excel and Powerpoint are not nearly as feature-rich as their desktop counter parts but for the most part they are powerful enough to help you get a lot of work done when you don't have access to a full blown version of Microsoft Office.

Sharing Documents With Microsoft Office Web Apps

Sharing in Office Web Apps is pretty simple. Just open the document you want to share and click the Share button. But be careful because unlike Google Docs which allows you to share individual files Office Web Apps allows sharing documents on a folder-by-folder basis. So if you share a file that's in a folder with a bunch of other documents, whoever you are sharing with will have access to all the files in the folder. So, if you're going to create a new document that you are going to share with other people, for heaven sakes, don't create that document in your My Documents folder. If you are going to create a file you want to share, use the New button to create a new folder and then create your file there. And be careful to follow the same procedure for up-loading files you intend to share. Create a new folder first and then up-load the file or files you want to share to that new folder.

If you want to create, share or download a word processor document in Office Web Apps, Office Web Apps gives you a choice. Your choices are DOCX or nothing. It's also XLSX, and PPTX file formats or nothing for spreadsheets and presentations as well. With Google Docs, Google lets you choose to work with plain text, rich text, CSV, HTML and PDF. Of course, Microsoft has chosen to have Office Web Apps only work with their proprietary software because they want you to buy their software. On the other hand, it is pretty cool that with one mouse click you can open a Office Web Apps Word document in a full blown desktop version of Word, provided of course that you have Word 2010 installed on your computer.

Google Docs will constantly auto-save your work every few seconds in all of its applications - its word documents app, its spreadsheets app or presentation (PowerPoint) app. This way if your internet connection goes down or your browser crashes, your work is automatically saved. Office Web Apps does this as well in all the applications except for it's Word application. So if you're working with a Word document in Office Web Apps you might want to manually save your work at regular intervals. Microsoft will almost certainly fix this glaring problem in the very near future but this is the situation that exists as of the date of this article's publication.

Where Microsoft Office Web Apps Beats Google Docs

Microsoft Office Apps

Microsoft Office Apps

It might not come as much of a surprise that if you open a complex, desktop created Microsoft Word, PowerPoint or Excel document in Google Docs, it's not going to look nearly as faithful to the original desktop version as it will when opened in Office Web Apps. So give Microsoft Office Web Apps a big edge here.

If having access to a lot of different fonts is important to you, score another one for Office Web Apps. Office Web Apps seems to give you the ability to work with every font you could imagine. Google Docs lets you work with no more than around a dozen fonts.

Both Google Docs and Office Web Apps have Version History. Office Web Apps is a little more intuitive and easier to use than Version History in Google Docs. Office Web Apps Version History page shows your document in the main window with a sidebar on the left that tells you who the last person was to access the document. Clicking on previous versions allows you to see what the document looked like before changes were made to it and even gives you a restore option to go back to older versions of the document.

As I mentioned earlier in this article, you store and work with (upload to, create and edit) your Office Web Apps documents on Microsoft's SkyDrive. SkyDrive allows you a whoppingly huge 25 gigs of storage compared to only 1 gig that Google offers on Google Docs. In fairness to Google though, only those documents stored in non-Google Docs format count against your total storage allotment. But 25 gigs compared to 1 gig? We gotta give microsoft Office Web Apps the win on storage generosity. With Google Docs you can get 20 GB of extra space for $5 (US) per year.

Where Google Docs Beats Office Web Apps

google docs

Google Docs Now Has Some Awesome Compitition

In real-time collaboration, Google Docs beats Office Web Apps hands-down because Google Docs has it and Office Web Apps doesn't. Sure, you can collaborate on a document with other people in Office Web Apps but not instantaneously, Google Wave-like, like you can using Google Docs. Excel in Office Web Apps does let two, but only two, people edit the same sheet simultaneously but Word in Office Web Apps does not, as of this writing.

In Google Docs you can select several files at once so that you can perform actions on them all at once like deleting them or exporting them. Web Apps forces you to deal with files individually.

The word processor in Google Docs lets you insert tables, images, comments, headers and footnotes, and has also built-in translator, spell checker, word count and dictionary whereas Office Web Apps online version of Word only lets you insert tables, images and links, and only has a spell checker.

Google Docs allows you to export files in several formats including HTML, TXT, PDF and CSV – besides the standard DOC, XLS and PPT formats. With Office Web Apps you can only download them in Microsoft's proprietary DOCX, XLSX and PPTX formats.

Deleting a document in Google Docs is simple. Just select it and click Delete. Deleting a single file from SkyDrive where your Office Web Apps documents are stored has more steps than an AA meeting. First you have to hover your mouse over the file you want to delete and click More then click Properties then click More again and then finally you'll see the option to delete the file.

So Who Wins - Google Docs or Office Web Apps?

google docs

Let The Competition Begin

If you have Microsoft Office 2010 installed on your computers you'll naturally want to use Office Web Apps. If you haven't shelled out $280 (US) for Office 2010 Home or $500 (US) for the Pro version and don't intend to, you're better off using Google Docs. After all, any document you create in Google Docs can be opened in Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint.

Oh yeah, recently Microsoft partnered with Facebook so that now you can use Office Web Apps in conjunction with the Messaging feature on Facebook to share/collaborate on documents, spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations with your Facebook friends all without leaving the Facebook Website.

Up until a few days ago, as of my writing this, Microsoft Office Web Apps was only available for those of us living in the UK, the US and Canada. Now you can beginning using Office Web Apps if you live in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey or Taiwan. Office Web Apps will almost certainly be world wide very soon. Needless to say, Google Docs has been available world wide for several years.

So who wins this contest between Microsoft Office Web Apps and Google Docs? We, the users of these awesome Web applications do. All of us who use these two fantastic online productivity suites will be the winners. And that's because now that Google Docs has some serious competition, Google will be forced to make even more improvements to Google Docs and Microsoft will be driven to counter those improvements with further enhancements to Office Web Apps. We should all be looking forward to the competition. So as the PA announcer, before everyone of those inane, mind-numblingly boring NASCAR races, says: Gentlemen, start your engines.

If you haven't read it yet, you might want to have a look at the piece I recently wrote on Google Docs.

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