As the upcoming releases of Microsoft SharePoint 2010 and Office 2010 draw closer, I’ve been highlighting some of the best new features that will be available this spring. This time, I’ll show you a very exciting feature that will allow your end users to work on their Office documents in a zero-client environment from within SharePoint 2010.

Working from the Cloud

When Google unleashed Google Docs to the world in 2007, they made it very clear to consumers that being able to create and edit documents from the web is very cool. And not only can you just create documents for viewing later, but you can easily share those documents with others so they can edit them too.

Clearly, Microsoft missed the train on this one, as they were still trying to sell Live as a compelling online experience, and it had none of these features.

Since then, a lot has changed. Google Docs is still going strong with an ever-growing list of new features, while Microsoft is close to releasing its answer to the question of online document authoring. And they definitely have a few tricks up their sleeves this time around.

Office 2010 Web Apps

Google’s monopoly on inventing just about every cool web tool is coming to a close. Their dominance taught Microsoft a valuable lesson about what people really want from an online experience.

Some of those things are that they don’t want to be jailed to Internet Explorer, and they don’t want to be charged for something that they can get for free elsewhere. Not only is Microsoft committed towards keeping these web apps free (for Live users), but they work pretty flawlessly in FireFox and Safari as well.

As you can see below, I’ve used FireFox to create an Excel spreadsheet from Windows Live Skydrive without a hitch.


Windows Live SkyDrive

The User Experience You Know So Well

What’s so attractive about Office 2010 Web Apps in comparison to Google Docs is that I’m using a familiar interface, and I’ve got most of the functionality I’m accustomed to. As cool as Google Docs is, it’s not what I’m accustomed to when I’m working from the office, and it doesn’t have a lot of the functionality that I want.

I also have the ability to save right to my SkyDrive account from any supported Office 2010 client application, something I can’t do with Google Docs.

The Office team is very committed to bringing more features from the client applications into the web applications. For instance, they’ve made good strides with making the web apps accessible for the impaired. Screen reader support, keyboard accessibility and high contrast/DPI are all features available to Office 2010 web apps.   


Using SkyDrive

Learning Opportunities

Editor's Note: Read more on SharePoint 2010 from Mike Ferrara, including 8 Ways Web Content Management has Improved in SharePoint 2010.

So Where Does SharePoint Fit In?

One of the main ingredients of SharePoint 2010 is the ability to integrate fully with Office Web Apps to replicate the experience that Windows Live Skydrive offers. Office Web Apps will be available to Office 2010 volume licensing customers without an additional expense. This should allow for a very painless deployment into an existing or new SharePoint 2010 install.

At a very high level, the Office 2010 Web Apps server components will install service applications right into your SharePoint farm. There are front end components and application server components that can be load-balanced just like any of the other service apps available in SharePoint 2010.

The front end components include Word editing, Word viewing, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint. The backend services include the Word Viewing service, the Excel Calculation service and the PowerPoint service. There is also a Visio service available for SharePoint 2010 but it’s outside the scope of this article as it’s not part of the core Office 2010 Web Apps product.


SharePoint 2010 and Office 2010 Web Apps

Because of this tight integration, it is now very possible to bring thin clients back into the enterprise without sacrificing functionality. On the contrary, this is pretty cutting edge! Need to access a crucial document and all you’ve got is a public kiosk? No problem! Fire up your company’s SharePoint extranet and work from anywhere without sacrificing the ability to make changes.


SharePoint 2010 and Office 2010 Web Apps

SharePoint 2010 and Office 2010 Web Apps - The Buy In

If you’re struggling with end user buy-in for your SharePoint portal, then seriously consider Office 2010 Web App integration. If you can demonstrate to your users that they can work comfortably from any location without losing familiarity, then it will give them a reason to explore this feature.

Quick document edits will be faster and more enjoyable for the user since you’ll be eliminating the need to leave the page. And just about all of the most widely used Office features are available without having to open the documents in the client application. This is a big win for consumers and business users alike.