Microsoft Updates Office Web Apps — Again

Microsoft unveiled new features to its free online productivity applications suite Thursday, building on its successful debut. Over 20 million people have already taken Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) Office Web Apps for a spin since it first became available a bit more than 100 days ago.

The announcement came via a post to the Office Microsoft Blog, Thursday.

“Today we’re releasing more new features — based on your feedback (more than 25,000 comments so far) — and we’re making Office Web Apps available in seven more countries,” Evan Lew, senior product manager for Office applications, said in the post.

The highly-simplified, Web-based versions of Microsoft’s Word, Excel, OneNote, and PowerPoint desktop applications became available for free to Windows Live users in June, when the consumer version of Office 2010 was released.

Among the features added in the newly updated Office Web Apps is the capability to embed a PowerPoint chart or Excel spreadsheet in a blog or Web page, Lew said. For instance, an independent real estate agent’s website might offer an embedded Excel spreadsheet so that home shoppers could calculate potential scenarios.

Additionally, PowerPoint presentations are viewable either as thumbnails or in full-screen. PowerPoint also gains the ability to add photos and illustrations from to presentations, while Excel now lets users insert charts from inside the browser, according to Lew.

The Word Web App, meanwhile, now lets users print from edit mode in addition to view mode.

Meanwhile, SkyDrive, Microsoft’s free consumer Windows Live service for storing and sharing files online, including Office Web Apps files, picked up the capability to open Office documents on the PC desktop.

“Now you can open Office files on your desktop directly from SkyDrive. We added this feature after seeing that over 90 percent of the Office documents on SkyDrive are created in Office on the desktop. Making it easier for you to work with those files just makes sense,” Lew’s post continued.

This is the second update to the Office Web Apps since its release.

In late August, Microsoft updated the apps with new printing features for the Word Web App, new charting capabilities in the Excel Web App, and clip art support in the PowerPoint Web App, among others.

“People can access the Office Web Apps in two ways,” a Microsoft spokesperson told Consumers with a Windows Live ID can use the online applications for free.

The other way is for medium and large businesses to use the Office Web Apps via SharePoint Server 2010, which is not free.

“In the future, customers will be able to use Office Web Apps through Microsoft Online Services as we update the Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) with 2010 capabilities,” the spokesperson added.

Office Web Apps are currently available in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Ireland, and the company just added Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Russia, and Switzerland, to bring the total number of countries where it’s available to 11.

The latest release of Microsoft’s Office Web Apps is available here.

Microsoft Outlook News

In other Office 2010 news, Microsoft also said it will make Outlook with Business Contact Manager (BCM) available to Office purchasers who do not have volume licenses. Previously, the company had only included Outlook with BCM in volume license purchases.

“We underestimated the importance of BCM to our small business customers and those who purchased previous versions of Office in retail stores or pre-installed on PCs,” Justin Hutchinson, a director on Microsoft Office, said in a post to the Business Contact Manager Team Blog, Tuesday.

“Worse yet, we left many of our customers, who didn’t want to buy through volume licensing, stranded with their data locked in previous versions of Office,” Hutchinson added.

So Microsoft is making BCM available at no additional charge to purchasers of earlier releases of Office, from 2003 and 2007 Small Business and Professional Editions, as well as Office Ultimate 2007, or a standalone edition of Office Outlook 2003 or 2007, who also purchased Office Home and Business 2010, Office Professional 2010, or Outlook 2010.

You can download BCM from this Microsoft website.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @stuartj1000.

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