It’s been a few years in the making, but Microsoft has finally added a web-based office suite to its line of productivity tools. The Office Web Apps will let you create and edit Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote files all from the comfort of a web browser. You can also upload existing docs for viewing online, share documents with others, download docs, or edit them in the desktop version of Office, if you happen to have it installed.
Hardcore Office users might find the web apps a bit limiting, but if you don’t need all the bells and whistles that come with Microsoft’s desktop software, Office Web Apps may be all you need. The service compares favorably with Google Docs and Zoho Office, offering at least as many options for formatting your documents. There’s also version tracking.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that you don’t need to use Internet Explorer for Office Web Apps to work. Google Chrome and Firefox are both supported. You can also view (but not edit) Word and PowerPoint files on most mobile phone browsers by visiting office.live.com on your mobile device. I gave it a try with my Google Nexus One, and whiel the formatting looked a little funky, the Android browser was able to display a Word document I had just created on a laptop.
The Office Web Apps service is also tied to Windows Live SkyDrive, which provides users with up to 25GB of online storage space for free.
One area where there’s room for improvement is search. While Google Docs and Zoho Office both make it easy to search the docs you create and store online, when I entered a query in the search box at Office Live, I got a few thousand results from public documents shared by other users, which wasn’t really what I was looking for.