Analysis: Microsoft Releases Office Live in Public Beta, But Still Requires Users to Work Offline

While Office Live still lacks the ability to edit documents online, analysts say most business users still prefer the rich functionality of installed Office applications.

Following several announcements around its new software-as-a-service (SaaS) strategy, Microsoft unveiled Office Live Workspace, a Web-based application that allows basic online collaboration and document sharing. The company made the software available in public beta on March 4 for free, but the product still requires that users do a majority of their work with installed software offline.

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"We wanted to hit at one of our customers' top requests, which was to have a more Web-based approach," Kirk Gregersen, Microsoft Office's director of consumer and small business product management, told CIO yesterday. "Office Live Workspace can be used by any person, if they're at home or at work or at school."

According to Michael Silver, a Gartner analyst, the emergence of Office Live comes partially in response to Google Apps, the Web-based productivity suite that allows users to collaborate online with a lightweight set of tools, including documents and spreadsheets.

"They need to respond to the strong parts of Google Apps, which happens to be the collaboration aspect," he says.

In Google Apps, users can edit documents in almost real time online, where colleagues can see the changes by merely refreshing their Web browser. In Office Live, users must check documents out of the Web-based interface and work on them from their desktop offline before checking the file back in online.

But despite the lack of an online editing function, Silver notes that Microsoft Office still boasts superior functionality to Google Apps, and that will be an area where Microsoft might enjoy an advantage for years to come. "I know a lot of people who are trying out Google Apps," Silver says. "But I don't know anyone who is using it fully instead of Office."

Rob Koplowitz, a Forrester analyst, says Microsoft could explore the possibility of offering online editing in Office Live down the road, but that they probably won't do so until they can bring the functionalities of their installed applications online. "There are a lot of things that are rich and compelling about Office apps like Word and Excel," he says. "I don't know that people are ready to give up on that yet."

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