This week, Microsoft began rolling out the first functionality updates to its online office productivity suites, Office Web Apps (OWA) and Facebook Docs. OWA gets a number of requested new features, including printing (from Word Web App), Excel Web App charting and auto fill, and PowerPoint clip art and themes support. And Facebook Docs, essentially a version of OWA that runs on the Facebook platform, gets document tagging and search functionality.
After years of pushing only traditional, desktop-based versions of its Office software suites, Microsoft this year began dipping its toes in the online space with OWA and Facebook Docs, offering competition to the widely discussed—but little used or liked—Google Docs. Both include web-based versions of the popular Office solutions Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, while OWA also includes a Web-based version of OneNote.
OWA's new features are perhaps more dramatic. The top feature request from users was printing functionality while editing, and this updates adds that, albeit to Word Web App only. (The Viewer versions of the OWAs have always allowed printing, but this functionality was unavailable while editing a document, for some reason.) It's now possible to insert charts into Excel workbooks using Excel Web App, and it works much like it does in Excel 2010. Excel Web App also picks up desktop Excel's auto-fill feature, which helps you auto-format cells using the behavior of adjacent cells. And in PowerPoint Web App, it's now possible to add photos and illustrations to presentations using Office.com's image library. Microsoft also made more themes available for new presentations.
The updates to Docs are designed more around the audience for this product—students—and how they might use it to better organize and find information stored online. To this end, Docs gains document tagging, which you can use to filter search results by topic, making it easier to find the content you need. You can use tagging to find your own documents, and also related documents shared by your friends.
When Microsoft began the push to web-based versions of its office productivity solutions, I opined that it wasn't enough for the software giant to simply show up with a product and then let it sit, untouched for months. If the company is serious about competing in this space, it will need to aggressively update these solutions, in keeping with the way Google and other online solution providers operate. This first set of updates isn't proof that Microsoft has adopted this strategy, but it's a good first step.