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Microsoft's Office Live Workspace nets mixed reviews
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Wed Dec 12, 2007 5:14 pm Reply and quote this post
As web technologies continue their march in offering more power, flexibility and collaborative features in online productivity apps, Microsoft has finally tossed its hat into the ring with Office Live Workspaces. Marketed towards home, small business and educational users, Office Live Workspaces more or less endows Microsoft's cash cow Office suite with a free hosted service for sharing and collaborating on Office documents. The only problem is, as a 1.0 beta product, web-based editing is nowhere to be found, even though there is no shortage of web 2.0 competition nipping at Microsoft's heels.

Still in a private beta for which you can get in line, the service primarily works via a downloadable plug-in for Office 2003 and 2007 that allows users to mark local Office files for uploading, sharing and—impressively—syncing with the Office Live Workspaces site from a Windows PC (a Mac Office plug-in is reportedly coming some time in 2008). Downloading a document from Office Live Workspaces will open it in its corresponding Office application for editing. Saving the file will sync changes back up to the service, and closing it will relinquish permission for others to begin editing—which is one primary area where Office Live Documents is taking flak. Critics have been quick to point out that other free, hosted alternatives, such as Google Documents, Zoho and the upcoming Live Documents, have all left this "check-in/check-out" functionality in the dust years ago. Most other online office apps offer various simultaneous editing and version tracking features that make this aspect of Office Live Workspaces feel a bit juvenile.

Beyond its collaboration faults, other Office Live Workspaces criticism focuses on its limited web-based editing options, or lack thereof. For instance, users cannot upload a Word document and edit it in a browser. However, Office Live Workspaces does offer a Web Notes application with a decent set of editing tools, but any documents created with this tool are bizarrely "trapped" in Office Live; local saving or even exporting options are nowhere to be found. A Microsoft exec offered the possibility of web-based editing and saving options arriving "maybe next year."

Criticism of Office Live Workspaces is understandable when compared to web-based alternatives, but the service fares better when considered in a class of its own. Most other web-based office applications lack any ability to interact with desktop software, outside of perhaps Zoho and its use of Google Gears for offline editing in Firefox. In this light, Office Live Workspaces looks like a solid and easy document collaboration option for users who depend on Office's broad and powerful capabilities.

Contributed by Editorial Team, Executive Management Team
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