My 6/20/10 Missoulian column
Microsoft Office has gone the way of the “cloud.” What I mean is that this month, parts of the Microsoft Office suite of programs – such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint – that are used by hundreds of millions of people every day are now available online through Office Web Apps.
That’s as opposed to the usual way Microsoft’s Office programs are installed and used on the hard drive of your personal computer or laptop. That’s what’s been traditional since the beginning of PCs: Programs and documents are stored in one place on a computer.
Using Office Web Apps means the program and your documents exist nowhere in particular. Instead, they are stored in a vast array of servers and hard drives spread across the Internet, so they are accessible to you from anywhere. That’s the cloud: It’s everywhere and nowhere, like one of those summer cumulus clouds that billow and move.
(But the cloud metaphor doesn’t include a storm that washes away your data. That’s an advantage of the cloud; copies are spread all over and are pretty much perfectly safe from loss.)
Web Apps and the move to the cloud is a big jump for Microsoft in terms of marketing, and is probably a response to Google Docs, Google’s own cloud applications that include word processing, spreadsheets and ways of working collaboratively.
And the cloud is a big jump in terms of the style of work. Millions of people can now work with Office via Web Apps and away from a traditional copy of Office on a PC. But Microsoft says Web Apps is more of a companion to the full version of the Office suite on your PC.
Microsoft Office 10, released last week, is installed the usual way on a PC, and is the only way to get the full capabilities of the software.
And that’s what the reviewers say, too, some of which are not very charitable toward the new Web Apps. PCWorld calls them “dismal” and Walt Mossberg of All Things Digital says that they are a “good start,” but not much more.
But look for Microsoft to keep expanding Web Apps – the future of Office may very well be in the cloud.
This week in Mac Q & A: Do I need Software Update?