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ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley has apparently learned that Microsoft’s online alternative to Google Docs will emerge from beta before the end of this year. Office Live Workspace is a service that is geared to work as either a standalone product, or in tandem with Office 2003-2007. It has been suggested that the current public beta is fairly close to the final version, and the primary issue outstanding is language support. Microsoft wishes to expand the 11 languages it currently supports to 37 before it officially lifts the beta tag later this year. Spokesmen Kirk Gregersen from Microsoft has also reportedly commented on the surprising trends they have identified during the public beta. It was originally assumed that casual users such as students would use Live Workspace as a means to author and remotely access documents. Instead, the service is being used mostly as a single access point for collaborative efforts involving multiple users. Insiders have suggested that this only further demonstrates why desktop versions of Microsoft Office won’t be leaving us anytime soon.
For those who haven’t been following the development of Office Live Workspace, here is a rundown on the new features.
Note – This is the word processor component that most directly compares to Google Docs. It is just as full featured as the Google alternative, but suffers from an annoying lack of a save locally feature. If you wish to save copies of your “notes” for use offline, you will need to copy and paste them manually.
List – This is the spreadsheet component that represents a very stripped down version of Excel. Microsoft apparently knows that outside of business, its advanced spreadsheet features are often bypassed making it little more than a glorified list maker. The interface has been cleaned up to allow for better control over the making and sharing of lists. Once completed, you will have the option to export these as Excel spreadsheets.
Event List – This allows you to create an individual, or shared lists of events. Event lists can be exported to Outlook or Excel. Any entries manipulated in Outlook remain synced with the version on the web.
Task List – This feature is similar to list, but is better optimized to represent task’s. It gives a preformatted layout for the task name, due date, and priority. The task’s can be exported to Outlook or Excel.
Contact List – The contact list allows you to create a central location for your contacts which can easily be shared with others. Contacts stored here can be pushed into Outlook or Excel.
The current web interface is easy to use and its tight integration with the Office desktop applications gives it a pretty compelling advantage over Google Docs. It an excellent alternative for those of us who aren’t yet comfortable with authoring exclusively in the cloud but still want the benefits of remote and shared access. For people who use office on the go, this is service is defiantly worth checking out.