I spent some time yesterday trying out the new Word Web App on Windows SkyDrive, and comparing it with Word 2010. (This is not a task for the faint-hearted. Documenting the differences between the Office Web Apps versions and the software versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint in just the Ribbon UI has so far consumed 388 rows in a spreadsheet.) Given that metric, here are some of the ways that the Word Web App differs from its software counterpart:
- Fewer Tabs in the Ribbon UI: The Word Web App has three tabs (Home, Insert, View), while Word 2010 has eight (Home, Insert, Page Layout, References, Mailings, Review, View, Add-Ins)
- Fewer fonts in the Web App: The Word Web App supports 42 fonts, while Word 2010 supports 264 (on my machine, this number will differ based on the fonts installed). When I asked Microsoft as to why there are fewer fonts in the online version, they said they’d supported the most popular fonts.
- One less standard font size: The pre-populated font sizes are very similar in the two applications (there are 15 in the Word Web App, and 16 in Word 2010). The only difference is font size 22 is missing in the Word Web App. (I’m not sure what 22 did to deserve that fate; why didn’t 20 or 24 get singled out instead? If there are any Douglas Adams fans at Microsoft, maybe they can insert font size 42 to even things up).
- No custom colors: While the color palette is quite broad in the Word Web App, you do not have the ability to create a custom color (I suspect because of the limited color palette on the Web).
- No multi-column document creation: There’s no way (that I can find) to create a multi-column document from scratch in the Word Web App. While you can edit multi-column documents that have been uploaded, the visual cues get lost. For example, if you delete some words, it’s hard to see how that impacts the overall page layout. You could move back into display mode to see if the columns line up after your changes, but that would get tiresome quickly.
There are many more differences between the online and software versions, and users will just have to work with them to understand how to create Word Web App-friendly documents (e.g., don’t use dual columns or font size 22).
That said, the faithfulness of the display of Word documents is stunning. Back when I did the Market Insight: Productivity Suites 2009 report, I crafted a Word document with all kinds of formatting gotchas (e.g., columns, watermarks, picture justification) that non-Microsoft suites would sometimes stumble over. Not so the Word Web App–the online version looks exactly the same as the local version. My understanding is that Microsoft works this magic by basically printing the page when in display mode: you’re actually seeing an image of the page, rather than directly seeing the words.
It’s early in the life of the Office Web Apps, and it’s going to take awhile for users and enterprises to figure out how they can use them productively. So let the poking and prodding begin!