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Office Web Apps - Introduction to the Package and How to Use Them Effectively

written by: •edited by: Brian Nelson•updated: 5/25/2011

You don't need a local copy of Microsoft Office to use Office Web Apps. This article looks at what the cloud package from Microsoft is about and how it eliminates the need for installing MS Office.

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    What Are Office Web Apps?

    Using Office Web Apps Before talking about using Office Web Apps, let us talk about what Office Web Apps are. If you have used Google Docs, you have some idea of dealing with remotely stored documents. Office Web Apps is similar except that you have extended facilities and the familiar Microsoft interface while dealing with your documents in cloud.

    Though Microsoft introduced Skydrive before Google brought in Google Docs, the service was used more for remote storage of your files. When Google Docs started offering in-cloud editing of uploaded documents, Microsoft developed several cloud based services - BPOS, Office Live Workspace, Azure, and of course the Office Web Apps.

    You can always upload your files to Skydrive so that you can share them and access them from anywhere in the world. With the integration of Office Web Apps and SkyDrive, you can now even create Word documents, Excel sheets, PowerPoint slideshows, and OneNote files using your browser. And you can create then directly on the SkyDrive. You can share these documents with others - offering them two privileges: View and Edit.

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    Integration of Office Web Apps With Facebook

    Office Web Apps also offers integration with Facebook so you can compose the documents, spreadsheets, and presentations on the cloud using the online Office interface and send them as attachments to your Facebook friends. Your Facebook friends do not need to have a local copy of MS Office installed on their computers. They can click on the files and open them to view and/or edit them as per the privileges you set. The files open in their browsers.

    You can set privileges for a group or for individuals. For example you can offer Edit/View privilege to your Friends, View Only privilege to Friends of Friends and Everyone. You can also set the privileges for individuals. This applies to people not on Facebook as well, for example - your colleagues or project partners.

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    Advantages of Office Web Apps: A Summary

    In short, Office Web Apps is a set of online applications - Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote - that you can use from a browser. Your files are stored on SkyDrive (maximum storage size is 25 GB) instead of your local disk drive. You can access them from anywhere using just your browser. You can share these documents easily with others. You do not necessarily need the locally installed Microsoft Office software for using Office Web Apps. In other words, you need not purchase MS Office if you are comfortable with the features of these online counterparts of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

    Drawbacks of Office Web Apps

    Office Web Apps do not contain all the features of Microsoft Office. For example, Spell Check and Grammar Checker are missing. You have to rely on the spell check feature of the browser you are using. This is why some people prefer to use Office Web Apps in conjunction with a local copy of MS Office.

    Note: If you have a SharePoint server, you can install the Office Web Apps to SharePoint to get more in terms of speed and flexibility.

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    How to Use Office Web Apps?

    For using Office Web Apps, you need to login into the Windows Live website at To login, you need a .NET passport or Hotmail user account or Windows Live ID. If you do not have one, you can sign up using the Signup link on the page as shown in the image below.

    Fig 1 - Using Office Web Apps - Signup to Login 

    Once you login, you are presented with the Office page on Windows Live website. You can view and use links to other services too, from Windows Live - such as Mail, Messenger, Photos and more.

    Fig 2 - Using Office Web Apps for First Time 

    You can see that you are presented with My Documents, Photos and Public folders on the left. When you create any folder, it is also displayed on the left side of the window.


    1 If you store any files in Public folder, anyone can view it. It is always better to use the My Documents folder and then set privileges for contents.

    2. You cannot apply settings for individual documents. The settings of the folder you create for storing the files are applicable to the contents of the folder.

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    Adding Files to Office Web Apps and Setting Privileges

    Though our focus is on using Office Web Apps without the need of MS Office, if you wish to upload documents, you can do so by using the Add Files option.

    When you click on the Add Files link as shown in the above screenshot, you get a list of existing folders and a New Folder. When you click on the New Folder, you get a page asking for the name of the new folder and sharing privileges. The default option is Everyone. To change privileges, click on Change. You can set the share privileges for groups or for individuals. The image below shows how you can move the slider to select the groups. To select individuals, type their email IDs in the text box at the bottom or click on Select from Contact List. As explained in the previous page, you cannot change the privileges for Everyone and Friends of Friends group. They are set to View Only.

    Fig 3 - New Folder Page - Using Office Web Apps 

    Once you click on Next, you get a page for uploading files. You can either drag and drop the files to designated area or click on Select Documents. Clicking on the Select Documents will open the Open File dialog. Use CTRL key to select and upload more than one file.

    Fig 4 - Adding Files - Using Office Web Apps 

    After the files are uploaded, you get a page with several options that enable adding, editing, and deleting files. If the primary aim of creating the new folder is to share files with others, you need to notify them. Click on the triangle next to Share link to send the link of the folder to people with whom, you wish to share the folder.

    Fig 5 - Using Web Apps - Folder Lever Commands 

    Note that the links on the tops of list of files apply to the entire folder. If you select Delete under More, the entire folder is deleted.

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    Creating and Editing Files Without MS Office

    To create new files from Office Web Apps (through the browser), click on the New link and select options corresponding to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or OneNote. You can also add sub-folders using the New link.

    Fig 6 - Creating New Files Using Office Web Apps 

    Hover mouse pointer over any file to see options for renaming, editing, deleting, etc for that particular file. To edit a file in the browser, hover over the file and select Edit in Browser.

    Fig 7 - Using Office Web Apps - Using File Level Commands 

    You get most of the basic commands to edit the documents/presentations/spread-sheets/notebook. If you need more flexibility, download the file and work with it using a locally installed copy of Office.

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    Microsoft Live SkyDrive,

    Screenshots of SkyDrive and Office Web Apps by the Author.

Microsoft Cloud Computing

Microsoft Cloud Computing Services are aplenty. The company offers a range of services. This series on Microsoft Cloud Computing discusses some of the best cloud computing services including Office Live Workspace, Office Web Apps, and BPOS.
  1. Microsoft Online Storage Services
  2. Office Web Apps - Introduction to the Package and How to Use Them Effectively
  3. A Look At Office Live WorkSpace
  4. Microsoft Plans for the Future - Microsoft versus Google
  5. Microsoft Windows SkyDrive Tutorial