Today, Microsoft announced that the Office Live Workspace beta is publicly available for everyone to access. The site, a free web-based extension of Microsoft Office, lets you access your documents online and share your work with others. Some say that the service’s launch is a direct response to Google’s entry into the web office space with their Google Docs online service. If that’s so, then the question now is: did Microsoft just trump Google Docs? Or does Google Docs still rule online office suites?
Office Live Workspace: The Basics
Before we review the features in detail, let’s look at an overview of what Office Live Workspace offers.
After signing up for Office Live and signing into the service (and no, you don’t have to have an MSN email address to do so), you are presented with the “Documents” area where you can upload and view files and share them with others.
However, the defining feature is of this service are the “workspaces.” The “My Workspaces” section is to the left of the main window. You can create a new workspace by clicking on the plus button next to “New Workspace.”
You can start with a blank workspace or choose one of the workspace templates provided. These templates include things like “Class Workspace,” “Event Workspace,” “Household Workspace,” “Job Search Workspace,” and more. Loading one of these templates populates the Workspace with some sample documents. For example, the “Job Search Workspace” comes pre-loaded with documents like a resume, a cover letter, an interview schedule, interview preparation notes, etc.
Files can’t be edited from within workspace, but clicking on “edit” will open them up in Microsoft Office (of course). Individual documents or entire workspaces can be shared with others. Using the provided Office plug-in allows for one-click access from the desktop software to the workspace.
The workspace doesn’t offer offline collaboration – instead documents are “checked out” and “checked in,” but the service does integrate with SharedView for real-time screen sharing.
Both Google Docs and Office Live Workspace are free services, but each has its own unique set of features.
Microsoft Office Live Workspace is limited to 500 MB of space, which equates to about 1000 Microsoft Office documents.
I found it hard to pin down Google Docs storage space. Going into the basic information section of docs.google.com, I found two sentences stating: “Each user has a combined limit of 5000 documents and presentations and 5000 images,” and “Each user has a limit of 1000 spreadsheets.” However, an actual quota in MB was not specified.
Google Docs is limited to the types of files their service allows you to edit online: HTML, .txt, .doc .rtf, .odt, .xls, .csv, .ods, .tsv, .tsb, .ppt, and .pps.
Office Live Workspace allows you to upload all kinds of files, not only Office document file types. So, in addition, you can upload .PDFs, pictures, or seemingly any kind of file except those on the blocked list, which are blocked to protect users as they are file types Windows sees as executable files.
Google Docs allows for documents of 500 K each, plus up to 2 MB per embedded image. Presentations can be 10 MB in size. Spreadsheets can be 10,000 rows, or up to 256 columns, or up to 100,000 cells, or up to 40 sheets – whichever limit is reached first. Each spreadsheet can have up to 20,000 cells with formulas.
Regardless of the file type, Office Live Workspace allows for individual files as large as 25 MB.
Google Docs allows for sharing of a file or files by checking the checkbox next to them and clicking “share” from the menu. Those you are sharing with can be invited as “Collaborators” or “Viewers.” You can add a short note along with the invitation. Documents and presentations can be shared with 200 combined viewers, but spreadsheets have no limit.
Similarly, Office Live Workspace allows you to share documents or workspaces with others and mark them as “editors” or “viewers”. You can add a note along with the message. You can also check a box to allow “everyone to view this without signing in,” and/or a box to “send me a copy of the sharing invitation.” Below, a read-only preview of the file is displayed. Files or workspaces can be shared with up to 100 people.
Both offer address book integration for finding recipients’ email addresses.
In Google Docs, collaborators have the ability to work on files together, in-real time. Ten people may edit and/or view a document or presentation at any given time. Fifty people can edit a spreadsheet at the same time.
Although Office Live Workspace allows for collaboration, it’s not real-time, online collaboration. Instead, if one user is editing a file, another will be informed the file is “checked out.” When they finish editing and save their changes the document is checked back in for other users to access.
Both Google Docs and Office Live Workspace keep track of older versions of a file. You can use the web interface of either to roll back to a previous copy.
Google Docs allows you to browse for a file on your computer and upload it to the service, one-by-one. Documents and presentations can be emailed in, but not spreadsheets. In January, Google released a Document List Uploader tool that provides drag-and-drop uploads to the service. Third party tools like DocSyncer can automatically upload your documents from your PC to Google Docs.
Office Live Workspace also allows for Batch Upload, but if you’re not using IE, you won’t see the option. IE users can click on “Add Document” and they will be presented with the option to upload a single document or multiple documents.
Google Docs is the whole offering – there is no offline software to use, but if you needed to edit files with offline software, like Microsoft Office or Open Office, because you hit a wall with Google Docs’ current abilities, you could do so by downloading the file to your PC.
However, since Office Live Workspace is the web-enabled aspect of Microsoft Office software, integration is key. From within the workspace, you can click “edit” to open the file with the Microsoft Office program. The service also offers an add-in that works with Office XP, 2003, or 2007. The add-in allows you to open and save documents to and from the workspace via the software’s File Menu (XP, 2003) or Office menu (2007).
Both Google Docs and Office Live Workspace offer direct links to allow you to bookmark your workspace or a workspace item (Microsoft) or a file (Google Docs) via a unique URL you can save or share with others.
Google Docs allows for folders and sub-folders to store your files.
Essentially, Office Live Workspace offers folders, too, if you consider that each “workspace” is basically a folder containing files you want to group together. You can name these anything you want, but sub-folders within them are not supported.
Google Docs allows you to save files to your computer by saving them into (depending on their original format) a Microsoft Office, Open Office, HTML, txt, or even PDF format. You choose the format you want from the menu.
Office Live Workspace of course assumes you want to save the file in Microsoft Office format or whatever other format the file is already in (ex. PDF).
Google Docs are available from any mobile device, but editing is not available.
Office Live Workspace doesn’t provide mobile access, unless you’re a member of the Live@edu program. The Live@edu program offers students and alumni 5 GB email inboxes, 5 GB of password-protected online storage space, shared calendars, blogging tools, and access to these services on a mobile phone, all at no cost to the schools or students.
You can create a form in a Google Docs spreadsheet and send it out to anyone with an email address. They can respond directly from the email message or from an automatically generated web page and their responses are automatically added to your spreadsheet.
Office Live Workspace
Office Live Workspace offers some nice features, such as the ability to comment on files stored on the service.
Also, an “Activities” feature keeps track of workplace activities with the new activity panel and can send you notifications when changes are made in the workspace.
Integration with SharedView beta allows Office Live Workspace users to share screens with each other in real-time.
Although it’s very close when it comes to basic features of the two services, each stands out in its own way. Google Docs, although limited in its capabilities, offers real-time collaboration. Office Live Workspace, on the other hand, may not have the collaboration features of Google Docs, but the workspaces feature is unique. Plus, you have the capabilities of full-featured Office software available (assuming you own it)!
So, what do you think? Is Office Live Workspace a Google Docs killer? Or just a worthy competitor? Or is Google Docs the big winner?