Microsoft designs Office Online to work with handheld devices

Microsoft designs Office Online to work with handheld devices

By John Breeden II

GCN Staff

Microsoft Corp. has configured a full online version of its Office suite to work with small computing devices, despite the suite's large footprint.

Office Online users dial in to a server and access the suite's applications as if they were installed on local hard drives. The only software component needed at the client end is a 700K terminal program that connects to the Office server running Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0 or Windows 2000 Server.

Office Online cannot reside on an agency's or department's own server, however. It will be a subscription service from application service providers, or ASPs. Microsoft officials said two ASPs offer Office Online under a pilot, and they expect 16 ASPs to participate within a few months.

David Jaffe, product manager for Microsoft Office, compared the scheme to leasing an automobile.

Suite updates will be invisible to the user. When a patch or new feature is applied at the server, it becomes available the next time a user connects to the server. Jaffe called it the equivalent of outsourcing technical support.

Besides having fewer support headaches, the online version opens up the entire suite for platforms such as handhelds running Windows CE. If a device running WinCE can handle the 700K terminal program, it can access the full suite of applications.

Although Microsoft officials recommended that Office Online users work over a T1 or digital subscriber line connection, they said the program works surprisingly well at lower bandwidth. In a demonstration at last year's Comdex, Jaffe used a Hewlett-Packard Jornada handheld running WinCE to dial at 28.8 Kbps into a server at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Wash. In five seconds, the device pulled up and launched Office applications.

Jaffe opened a 14G, 184-page file on the Redmond server. In 11 seconds, the document showed on screen. The Jornada cannot run Office natively.

The response was so speedy because the server itself opened the file, whereas the CE client only looked at a portion of it at a time.

No-frills menu

Microsoft has simplified the Office menus and splash screens for low-bandwidth users. They are the same menus but without much of the glitter of standard Office. Users with fast connections can choose not to employ the low-bandwidth menus.

Jaffe cautioned that Office Online has no offline component and cannot be used, for example, on an airplane flight while a computer is disconnected. Also, some government users likely will be reluctant to store their files on an ASP's server, although Windows 2000 has stronger security than NT. Files can be downloaded, but Office Online users are unlikely to have a full version of Office installed on their devices anyhow, so the files will be of little use except for archiving.

Microsoft has not made plans to market Office Online to government users. Most likely, government marketing will be left up to individual ASPs.

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