Office Web Apps was launched pretty late compared to Google Docs, and many other competitors. The suite makes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote accessible from any web-browser using the familiar (to many) Microsoft Office interface.
To use Office Web Apps a Windows Live-account is needed, the rest of the suite is free. Using Office Web Apps is actually pretty easy, it’s fast (even on slower connections such as mobile broadband) and works well in a Windows 7 / Internet Explorer environment.
The interface is a stripped down version of the ribbon used in Office 2007 and 2010. Word is very similar to the desktop version, however creating and managing tables is a little bit different since there aren’t the same editing capabilities (for example resizing the whole table by dragging it).
Microsoft Office Web Apps connects with iStockphoto and similar services when inserting clip art imagery, it is also possible to insert your own images, links etc.
Using Excel is a nice experience, it is a basic version of Excel but strangely sufficient for most needs. For example it’s possible to use multiple sheets, create charts and a lot of functions are also available.
PowerPoint is also part of Microsoft Office Web Apps, it is however a bit limited when creating presentations compared to the desktop version. For example it isn’t possible to draw (but you can use the SmartArt tool), animations are not possible and the embedding video features is absent. However for creating basic presentations or editing existing ones created in the desktop application, it works.
Microsoft OneNote is also included, it isn’t as easy to work with as the desktop version since it’s slower to cut and paste images and other material into the notebook. However OneNote is a perfect complement to the desktop and also the recently released IPad app.
Finally Microsoft figured out what to do with its ugly duckling storage service, Skydrive. It is now an integrated part of Web Apps with sharing and collaboration options. For example it’s possible to upload a document from Office 2010 to Skydrive and continue working on it in the cloud.
Overall Microsoft Web Apps is a solid online office suite, the best part is that it is familiar to Office users and can be used in integration with already existing desktop applications. It is even better than Google Docs in the sense that it integrates with the most familiar Office suite out there. Some reports even suggest that Microsoft Web Apps even have more users than Google Docs, which is not surprising.
Microsoft Office Web Apps is sufficient for most needs, sure it isn’t possible to create advanced scripts, macros or templates, but then again I think most users actually do more simple tasks in Microsoft Office, meaning that the desktop Office suite from Redmond is overkill for average users.