Microsoft plans to accelerate improvements in Office Web Apps, the browser-based version of the Office suite, adding features like real-time co-authoring of documents and the ability to run in Android tablets via mobile Chrome browser support.
The planned enhancements, scheduled for release at some point in the next 12 months, are part of a shift in the way Microsoft views Office Web Apps, the company said yesterday.
Originally conceived in 2010 as a lightweight companion to the main desktop Office suite, Office Web Apps is now seen as a potentially more powerful product, thanks to improvements in browser technology and connection speeds.
"Our goal for Office Web Apps is that people can rely on it to create polished Office documents from start to finish," said Michael Atalla, director of Office 365 product management.
Office Web Apps, which is made up of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote, is available for free to individuals as part of Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud storage service for consumers. It's also included with Office 365, the broader email and collaboration suite that has free and fee-based editions.
The online Office suite competes with other browser-based office productivity suites. Its main rival is the free Google Drive, which combines online storage with the Docs applications for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and other tasks.
Microsoft lagged Google and other competitors in this space. Google Docs has been around since 2007. However, Microsoft's Office dominates this market on the desktop, and the company is making a push to extend the superiority of its desktop applications to the browser-based versions.
Microsoft wants to provide "an uncompromised Office Web Apps experience " and bring the power of Office to the broadest set of users, Atalla said.
The real-time co-authoring feature will build on co-authoring capabilities already present in the product and will let users see edits from collaborators as they are made without the need to refresh their browser page. Microsoft also plans to beef up the authoring and editing features in Office Web Apps.
Meanwhile, the move to bring Office Web Apps to Android tablets will intensify the competition with Google Drive.
Back in October, Microsoft delivered a series of Office Web Apps enhancements designed to offer users a better experience on iPads.
Although Microsoft has so far resisted developing a full suite of native Office applications for iOS devices, its decision to improve the user experience of Office Web Apps on iPads was intended to offer an option to the many grumpy users who want to use the suite on their iPads.