After a few months of public beta testing, Microsoft is taking the preview label of its updated Office Web Apps for SkyDrive today and making these new versions of its free web-based versions of Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint the standard for all SkyDrive and Outlook.com users. With this update, Microsoft is also introducing a number of new features that weren’t available in the last preview release, including co-authoring for PowerPoint, as well as improved touch support for all of the Office Web Apps.
In addition, Microsoft says, the Office Web Apps team has focused on making all of the apps “as snappy as possible, so you spend less time waiting and get things done faster.” According to the company’s own data, documents should now render about 30% faster than in the previous preview releases.
In total, Microsoft announced today, over 750,000 users opted in to try the preview version.
With the Windows 8 and Surface launches just a few days away, Microsoft is also stressing the fact that the Office Web Apps have been updated for touch. This means the apps now feature more appropriate button spacing for touch devices, as well as a “new UI controls for inserting tables or picking colors, dragging shapes with your fingers in PowerPoint, and support for gestures such as pinching and swiping.”
The above updates are just for today’s update. Overall, the new Office Web Apps are a major step forward and include a large number of changes. Based on customer feedback, Microsoft also added a number of other features to many of the apps compared to the previous stable release.
Word, for example, now includes a word count, OneNote (one of the most underrated products in Microsoft’s Office line-up) now offers an easier to find search tool and PowerPoint now displays movies in slideshows.
Heavy Excel users will also appreciate the fact that Microsoft has improved the spreadsheet’s copy/paste and undo features and added support for PivotTable editing, richer charts and new types of slicers.
PowerPoint users now get access to animations and transitions and Word users get new layout tools to change page size, margins, paragraph spacing, indentation and more.