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webDotWiz Online column March 18 2010 – Sneak peek at Office Web Apps

In June this year Microsoft will be releasing the latest version of Microsoft Office, namely Office 2010. Along with that launch, Microsoft will be releasing a set of Office programs that will run in the browser.

These special versions of Office programs will be known as Microsoft Office Web Applications (Web Apps for short) and will be made up of Excel Web App, OneNote Web App, PowerPoint Web App and Word App. All of these will be accessed in our browser and we’ll save and open files on our Live Skydrive thus providing access to our documents wherever we can connect to the Internet.

The good news for those of us with a Windows Live ID (e.g., a Hotmail account), the Office Web Apps will be free to use as part of the other free Windows Live Internet Services.

As the moment you can only try out the Office Web Apps by downloading the trial version of Office 2010 (a 700Mb download) but here’s a sneak peek at what we’ll all have access to soon.

New file and editing

To create a new file, we go to Live Skydrive at skydrive.live.com in our browser (sign in if need be). We’ll store our new document in our My Documents folder so open it (one click is all that’s needed). If you’ve already got files stored, they’ll be displayed.

The New menu

You’ll notice that there’s a new menu item, namely, the New item. Other menu items such as Add Files, Create folder are the same. Click New to create a new file and we have the choice to create a new Excel workbook, PowerPoint presentation, Word document or OneNote notebook. Let’s create a new Excel workbook (mainly because at the time of writing the Word document option is not yet available).

Entering a filename

Next we’ll be asked for a filename. Note the extension is already entered (XLSX means it’s an Office 2007/2010 formatted Excel document). Click Create to make our new file and after a tick or two, we’ll see a new workbook open in our browser window.

New blank Excel workbook - with Ribbon

Firstly you’ll notice the familiar Office 2007 Ribbon (which is carried over to Office 2010) with all the familiar formatting options, copy/cut/paste, table options, sorting and filtering and finding. At the top left is the File menu which replaces Office 2007’s Orb for access to opening/saving files. Above the File menu button are the undo/re-do buttons. However, compared to the desktop version of Office, there are only two main Ribbon menus, namely Home (which we’re currently showing) and Insert.

Although not all the functionality of the desktop version of Excel are available in Excel Web App (e.g., creating charts and graphs), Excel Web App will faithfully display the desktop file when loaded but those specific features won’t be editable. For example, the Excel Web App has three sheets available but you can’t create more.

New blank Excel workbook - three shets are available for editing

Let’s start some editing. webDotWiz always uses one sheet of an Excel workbook to document any editing carried out so he sets up a simple sheet for this task. So the second column, the When column, needs to be formatted in date/time format. That’s done in the usual way – click the column heading to highlight the complete column and then choose the appropriate option on the Number Format menu.

Formatting the When column in date/time format

We’ll choose the Long date format for our When column.

Use Long date format from the Number Format dropdown menu

Now when we enter a date such as 5/3/2010 we’ll get it formatted as Friday, 5 March 2010 (no ambiguity is a side benefit).

Long date format for the When column so no ambiguity

Ok, we’ve done enough for now. So it’s up to the File menu button to save our file. Oops, there’s no Save option (read the explanation on the menu). We just close our file by returning to the My Documents folder and our file is automatically saved on our Live Skydrive. Those of you who use Office OneNote will feel easy with this way of saving.

Our file is saved automatically when we return to our Skydrive My Documents folder

Yes, there it is, Workbook created online (the last part of the filename is cut off).

Opening a spreadsheet created in Excel desktop

Let’s say we’ve saved a file from desktop Excel into our My Documents folder on our Live Skydrive. Now let’s go to another computer and retrieve that file using the Excel Web App, since, after all, this is one of the benefits of the Office Web Apps, namely, being able to access our files anywhere (as long as there’s an internet connection). Note this computer doesn’t need to any version of Excel installed on the desktop – all we need is a web browser such as Internet Explorer 8.

On the other computer we call up Live Skydrive, sign in and bring up our My Documents folder. The Excel file we’re going to load is our jobs list.

Open an Excel file that's been saved in desktop Excel

After clicking this file, we notice the next screen is almost the same as we’ve become used to when using Live Skydrive or Live Photos, except that there are two new menu items: View and Edit.

Note the new menu items, View and Edit

Let’s choose Edit and see what happens. Well, not good news and we’re informed accordingly.

Information dialogue when can't edit using Excel Web App

So let’s follow the directions to open the file in viewing mode, that is, we go back to My Documents and choose the View menu option. Then we can view the spreadsheet just as it appeared in desktop Excel (trust me).

Viewing the Excel file

At this stage webDotWiz followed the instructions from the dialogue above to Save As from the File menu (giving the file a new name), and then re-opened the file in Edit mode. Note that when using Save As, the new file was saved to the My Documents folder on Skydrive.

Opening a spreadsheet created in Excel desktop (2)

webDotWiz thought he’d better try a spreadsheet containing a graph to see how it was displayed in Excel Web App. So he created a very simple sheet with some maths graphs.

Graph created in Excel desktop

You can do all sorts of things to enhance the graph in Excel desktop but webDotWiz has kept it simple in this little demo. To enhance the graph, all you need do is click it to make changes.

Graph can be edited in Excel desktop

So webDotWiz saved this spreadsheet to his hard drive and then saved it to his My Documents folder on Live Skydrive, closed Excel and then opened this file in Internet Explorer in the same way as he’s opened other Excel Web App spreadsheets above.

Graph demo spreadsheet open in Excel Web App

When you click on the graph, now all you’re told is that it’s an Excel chart or image so it’s not editable in Excel Web App (as expected because there are no chart or graph functions in the Excel Web App ribbon). However, webDotWiz was surprised to find that the graph is "live".

Change a value (x=-3 to x=-5) and the graph changes in Excel Web App

webDotWiz changed the value at A3 from -3 to -5; notice that the graph adjusts for the new value (the y=x^3 graph is the clearest to see). Just to make sure his imagination wasn’t running away from him, webDotWiz changed the value in A3 to -10 and, yes, the graph changed accordingly.

Just to be sure. Change x=-5 to x=-10 and the graph changes in Excel Web App

In conclusion, although the Excel Web App hasn’t all the functionality for editing that’s in Excel desktop, charts are "live" in Excel Web App and that feature opens up possibilities when sharing an Excel Web App spreadsheet with co-workers and students.

Wrapping it up

Although we’ve used the Excel Web App in the above sneak peek, the same will apply to how we can create, edit and view Word, OneNote and PowerPoint Web App documents in our browser.

There’s no need to have Office 2010 installed on your computer to use the Office Web Apps but you won’t have all the features of the desktop version (e.g., charts and graphs in Excel, video editing in PowerPoint). However, Office Web Apps will be free to those of us with a Windows Live ID.

Just as with Live Photos, you’re able to share your Web App documents with others, and there might be situations where several people are editing a Web App document simultaneously.

Office Web Apps will enable us to create an Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint or Word document in the desktop version of Office, save it to our Live Skydrive. Then we can access that file for editing or viewing from any other computer that has an Internet connection regardless of whether that computer has the desktop version of Office 2010 installed or not.

Office Web Apps are all about access-anywhere and collaboration.



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Posted using the 2009 version of Windows Live Writer.

Copied and pasted from Expression Web 3.


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