After nine months of closed testing, Microsoft has just introduced the free version of Office Web Apps, which for now is available on Windows Live only for customers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland, with support for English, Spanish and French. . The service finally presents an alternative to free online productivity tools, competing directly with Google Docs.
Although it is officially available only for the referred group of countries, an underlined limitation in the official information available on the service blog, apparently any customer with a Windows Live account can use it, accessing Skydrive, through this link. The service supports the main Office applications, including Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote, allowing you to create, edit and share documents using only the browser.
The interfaces are similar to those of applications resident on the computer and the guarantee of compatibility is complete so that you can then share the files with other users online or offline – in this case in combination with the various versions of the pre-installed Office package. The co-authorship features, with the identification of the changes made and the latest versions of the documents, are also accessible.
The service supports not only browser versions of Internet Explorer 7 and above, but also Chrome, Firefox 3.5 and above and Safari 4, covering Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems. Some mobile phone browsers are also supported, including Windows Mobile, Safari for iPhone, the BlackBerry browser and the Nokia S60 operating system.
More news is already promised for the official launch of Office 2010 for end users, which should happen in the coming weeks after the business version is available. At that time, Microsoft intends to integrate Office Web Apps with Hotmail as well.
Microsoft is also working to expand support for new languages and language tools in this new online service.