With the release of SharePoint Server 2010 and Office 2010 earlier this year, a new set of applications also arrived – Office Web Applications. Office Web Apps are browser-based versions of Office, enabling you to create, view and edit presentations, spreadsheets and documents using just a web browser.
Two questions keep coming up in SharePoint conversations with clients – What’s the licensing for Office Web Apps? Can I create documents using just Office Web Apps with SharePoint or do I still need Office to be installed?
The short answers are: licensing is complicated; yes you can create documents using Office Web Apps within SharePoint and no you don’t need Office to be installed (in fact, you can only create new documents using Office Web Apps when you don’t have Office installed).
Here are the details and we’ll see if Microsoft disagrees…
Office Web Apps comes in two versions: consumer and business.
The consumer version of Office Web Apps is available for free online because it is supported by embedded advertising, similar to using Google’s various free online apps such as Google Docs. You can create, view and edit documents without needing Office installed, you just need a browser. To use it, you will need a Windows Live account just as you need a Google account to use Google Docs. The documents are stored online using Windows Live Skydrive (formerly known as Office Live Workspace).
The business version of Office Web Apps is not free. In order to use it, each user must be licensed to use the full version of Office 2010. And it has to be a volume license, i.e. your organisation has a bulk volume license (or Enterprise Agreement – EA) to install Office. Office Web Apps are not included with retail or OEM versions of Office or with any previous version of Office. And every user who accesses documents using Office Web Apps must have a volume licenses to use Office, including third parties outside your organisation. As far as I can tell, this renders Office Web Apps an expensive option for extranets and public web sites given there are free and cheaper alternatives are available. It will also exclude small businesses who purchase Office either with new PCs (OEM) or full package (retail). And it will exclude organisations who have on-site customers who may want to access documents using a web browser. Schools and colleges, for example… if the normal policy is to expect non-employees to purchase their own computers and software to access documents held on your systems, you will need to buy licences to give them access via Office Web Apps. And don’t forget you’ll need SharePoint licences too if you are running SharePoint Server 2010 instead of SharePoint Foundation Services (the latter is included with Windows licensing)…
So, that’s the licensing side. If you’ve cleared that hurdle, on to using Office Web Apps within your organisation…
To use the business version of Office Web Apps, they are installed as an add-on to SharePoint 2010 <-yes, that means you need to deploy SharePoint 2010 to use Office Web Apps. You can access Office Web Apps within SharePoint from any browser-enabled device, you do not need to have Office installed. When Office Web Apps are configured, SharePoint will automatically open Office files in the browser by default. There is an icon to click if you want to edit a document. However there is no ‘New’ icon. Who knows why? The only way to create new documents using Office Web Apps on SharePoint 2010 is to click the ‘New Document’ icon from within a document library. If Office is installed, this action will launch the full client. If Office is not installed, this action will open a new document in Office Web Apps.
The official supported browsers for Office Web Apps include: Internet Explorer 7 and 8, Safari 4 on OS X, Firefox 3.5 on Windows, OS X or Linux. Other browsers may or may not work, e.g. mobile versions, they’re just not officially supported. Naturally, Microsoft being Microsoft, not all browsers are equal. Silverlight integration leads to a better ‘experience’ with Office Web Apps, such as using ClearType to improve the display of fonts.
If you are still reading and not confused, let’s correct that… there’s a third solution from Microsoft involving web access to documents – Docs.com. Docs is built on Office 2010 and Office Web Apps but is not from the Office or SharePoint teams. It has come out of Microsoft’s FUSE Labs. Docs includes integration with Facebook for creating and sharing documents with your Facebook friends. Docs is currently in beta so no news on licensing or integration with its related consumer and business siblings…
My closing thoughts
I’m disappointed but not surprised that Microsoft has made a prize mess of the licensing for Office Web Apps. In attempting to first and foremost protect their Office revenue stream, they’re proving the theory behind the Innovator’s Dilemma.
The licensing of Office Web Apps for business customers presents 3 choices:
- Purchase/increase/maintain a volume licensing agreement to cover Office 2010 (and SharePoint 2010) for all users, employees and others, who want to access documents in a web browser using Office Web Apps.
- Continue with the traditional methods – email documents or publish links to SharePoint libraries and people download/open the documents using any Office-compatible client installed on their computer. Naturally Office 2010 is the recommended client for integration with SharePoint.
- Use alternative browser-based options for viewing/editing Office documents, such as Google Apps or Zoho. Evaluate the cost of the monthly subscription versus Microsoft’s licensing cost. You will also need to consider the cost/value/risk of introducing a different approach to collaboration and productivity applications. This option isn’t for integrating with Office and SharePoint. It replaces them.
- There is a fourth option – use the free ad-funded consumer versions although those clouds are a little too grey for most organisations to fly into. Security, support and scale being the first three issues to overcome.
- There’s also the fifth option – reduce your dependency on documents and publish more content direct into web/wiki pages… but maybe a blog post for another day
Focusing on the first three options, one may generate additional revenue for Microsoft, one will reduce revenue and none of the options are likely to increase customer satisfaction or loyalty. The first may prove too expensive to justify the benefits. The second ties Office to the desktop in an era when people want to access content from any browser-capable device. The third introduces a new approach to collaboration and productivity, one that doesn’t need SharePoint or Office (or even a PC)…
A better approach would have been to include the use of Office Web Apps within SharePoint licensing, which is complicated enough when it comes to external access so you may as well kill two birds with one stone. And including Office Web Apps may even help justify increased SharePoint licenses. Anyone who claims this will reduce Office revenue clearly hasn’t been using Office Web Apps, or at least not in the real world. Pushing organisations to try alternatives has far better odds.
Related blog posts:
- Rethinking Office: Comparing Office with Google Docs – April 2008
- Programming Office: Why the shift of apps to the cloud will be slow – May 2008
- Understanding Office 2010 and the Office Web Apps – session at Microsoft’s SharePoint Conference, October 2009
- The twists and turns of Office Web Apps’ software license – Infoworld, February 2010
- Users will need a Microsoft Office licence to use Office Web Apps – ITWriting, May 2010
- Licensing of Office Web Apps when used with SharePoint 2010 – EduGeek Forum, June 2010
- The Innovator’s Dilemma – Clayton Christensen
- Office Web Apps blog
- Windows Live Skydrive / Office Live Workspace