Why can't I use Office Web Apps?


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Microsoft says people can test ‘Office in a browser’ so why doesn’t it work?

Microsoft says people can test ‘Office in a browser’ so why doesn’t it work?

If you have a Windows Live login you can go to Skydrive.com and try out Microsoft’s new ‘Office Web Applications’ which are mini versions of Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Onenote that run in your browser.

Some Office Watch readers have complained that they can’t access Office Web Applications (OWA) no matter what they try.

They’ve pointed to this para on the Microsoft site “The Office Web Apps are designed to work with Internet Explorer, Safari and Firefox and requires SharePoint 2010 or a Windows Live account. Note: Office Web Apps will be available through Windows Live at a later date during Technical Preview and will have limited functionality at this milestone.”

But there’s a big ‘gotcha’ that Microsoft has deliberately buried in the company’s usual way of hiding bad news where people aren’t likely to look.

Check out this “Office Web Apps’ overview page, scroll waaaaaay down to the bottom to find this vital nugget of info:

“You must install the Microsoft Office 2010 before using Office Web Apps”

That’s right, in order to use Office Web Apps you need Office 2010 installed on the computer.   It’s an important system requirement that you’d expect to see in, say, the ‘System Requirements’ section – but it’s conspicious by its absence.

This also means that, despite Microsoft’s promises, Office Web Apps won’t work on non-Windows systems since Office 2010 will only run on Windows.  OWA is supposed to be compatible with Mac Safari browser too.


UPDATE:  we’ve heard more from Microsoft and now have specific instructions for the different ways to enable OWA – see Qualifying for Office Web Applications.

You would not know any of this if you go to Skydrive and try to access an Office document.

Here’s what you should see for an online document in Skydrive with Office 2010 installed on the computer and therefore OWA available in the browser:

1337 Skydrive with OWA enabled - Why can't I use Office Web Apps?

And here’s the same login on a non Office 2010 computer:

1337 Skydrive with NO OWA for the same Live login on a different machine - Why can't I use Office Web Apps?

Because there’s no ‘Office Web Apps not available’ indicator, Office Watch readers have been spending too much time trying to work out what’s wrong. More customer time that Microsoft has wasted – thanks guys n girls.

There’s no technical reason for this restriction. Office Web Apps are intended to be ‘browser based’ and independent of anything installed on the computer, aside from the browser.

So Microsoft has put this arbitrary limitation on Office Web Apps – at least for the moment. It may be temporary limitation designed to limit access during the beta period or it could be a way to encourage/force people to buy Office 2010.

Finally, if you’re searching for ‘Office Web Apps’ online for a solution you might have found a download that you appear to need before running OWA. That’s not for individual users, that’s for organizations who can download OWA and install it on their servers for employees to use in-house.

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