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Office goes 2.0

If you or your students are users of Microsoft’s Office suite, you’re likely to be very interested in the new browser-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote now available free on Office Web Apps on SkyDrive, Microsoft’s free storage platform.

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The release of these free, sharable apps appears to be a response to the popularity of Google Docs and it immediately precedes the upcoming release of Office 2010.

After registering, at Office.live.com and installing Silverlight, users may work together simultaneously in real-time, access documents on smart phones, and revisit version histories.   The apps are currently available for users in the U.S., UK, Canada, and Ireland.

Microsoft’s Jason Moore announced the release in a June 7th post.

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These are not full-featured versions, but they do allow a level of sharing and simplified file moving you cannot do with desktop software.

Peter Svensson, of the Associated Press, did an early test drive and compares the browser-based Office with Google Docs:

Word – The most fully featured of the apps. You can type, check spelling, set headlines, create tables and insert pictures. You can’t tweak the margins, create columns, or access footnotes or comments, though you can view all these features in a “Reading View” if they’ve been added in the desktop program. Note that unlike the other Web Apps and Google Docs, Word Web App does not automatically save your document as you work – you have to hit the Save button. Google Docs’ word processor is more fully featured, but fancy stuff, including footnotes, doesn’t work well when imported into Word.

Excel – You can enter data and formulas in spreadsheets and have them calculated correctly. You can’t adjust the layout of the sheet or create pie charts or other graphics. Oddly, you can’t move cells or columns around: You have to cut them out, make space for them somewhere else, and then paste them. You can’t open some spreadsheets that have “comments, shapes or other objects.”

PowerPoint – You can edit text and add slides, but you can’t adjust graphic elements. If you have an arrow pointing the wrong way, you can delete it, but you can’t make it point the right way. You can create a presentation with pre-formatted boxes and diagrams, but your options are very limited. The Web App is mostly good for minor edits or last-minute changes.

OneNote – Microsoft’s sleeper Office app, designed to help you collect information and notes in one, easily searchable place. The Web App lets you paste pictures into your notes, but the more useful features of the desktop program, like inserting PDFs and clippings from Web pages, are missing. The app is supposed to be able to send notes to the desktop program and vice versa, but this didn’t work – I got error messages instead. A Microsoft representative said this may be a symptom of the flood of users trying the Apps this week.

Despite its limits, this is another solid strategy for student software equity.   And it will be another lifesaving tool that allows learners to collaborate, transfer files, and move across platforms.
My students love their GoogleDocs, but many will welcome these slimmer versions of their familiar tools too.

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Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is the teacher-librarian at Springfield Township High School, a technology writer, and a blogger. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

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