Office online extensions now available as free beta

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

Redmond (WA) – If you have been wondering how Microsoft expects you to use its Office suite in the future, here’s your chance to have a look into the future. Office Live Workspace Beta went online today and you are invited to take a test drive free of charge. The big question will be: Is Office Live Workspace compelling enough to convince users to shell out extra money every year?

If you have heard the word “workspace”, then you pretty much know what this new service will be about – about storing and sharing files online. In its basic functionality, it feels like a FTP server with a fancy interface that enables you to view, manage and edit your own files as well as files of others who have granted you permission to do so.

Files are organized into “workspaces”, which can either be created from 11 templates or a blank document. Templates include class, essays, events, household, meeting, project, school, sports team, study group and travel spaces, all of which have the purpose to organize a variety of different documents in one space and make them available to anyone you choose to.

 

 

For example, the household space includes an “announcement board” (essentially a notepad), a shopping list, a to-do list and an event list. Supported document types are primarily Word, Excel and PowerPoint, but users can also upload image files and popular non-Microsoft file types such as PDF. Much of the functionality in Office Live Workspace is enabled through plug-ins, so prepared to download several plug-ins, which, for example will allow you to save documents directly to a workspace from your local Office application or share a screen with other users.

While we were not able to convince our Word 2007 to save files directly to a Workspace or open a file from a workspace, the screen sharing and file sharing feature worked well: Sharing files with the simple purpose of just viewing those files is done via a simple file viewer – and files can be viewed by people who have no signed up for Windows live. However, sharing entire spaces is a bit more complicated and Microsoft requires all users who are sharing a workspace to sign up for Windows Live IDs.

Without doubt, Microsoft has created an interesting concept to extend Office to the Internet. At least in part, this concept could mean that you don’t have to fill up your flash drive with important documents and information before you go to your next business meeting. Microsoft says that up to 1000 files can be stored on Office Live Workspace. The major criticism of the software, of course, is that it is useless without the Office 2003 or 2007 applications. It will be interesting to see, whether Microsoft will be able to convince users to pay extra for this file sharing and collaboration service.

Recommended external reading:

Ars Technica: Office Live Workspace First Look

ReadWriteWeb: Office Live Workspace vs Google Docs: Feature-by-Feature Comparison