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Updated! Excel Web App 2010 overview

 

Thanks to Steve Tullis for putting this together.

Way back in November 2009, I wrote a short blog post announcing the two browser-based solutions the Excel team is delivering as part of the Office 2010 wave of products:

  1. Excel Services: Version two of our real-time, interactive, Excel-based reporting and dashboard capabilities which ship as part of SharePoint Server 2010. Also included are APIs which enable rich business application development.
  2. Excel Web App: The companion to the Excel client which extends the ability to create, view, edit, and collaborate on Excel workbooks using only a browser.

That article was mainly focused on Excel Services’ new features and functionality. This article is really part 2 – focusing on the Excel Web App 2010.

A Bit of Background

In July 2009, Microsoft publicly announced the Office Web Apps – new, web-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. As a suite, the Office Web Apps are an extension of the Office client applications which will be available via Windows Live, Microsoft Online, and as part of Office Volume Licensing (VL).

Update: Office Web Apps are now available worldwide. And see this recent post that compares Office Web Apps and Google’s Cloud Connect. See how to embed an Excel spreadsheet on a web page.

The Web Apps allow users to access their documents from virtually anywhere; and create, edit and collaborate on those documents using only the browser. All Web Apps support IE7 and greater (Windows), Safari 4 and greater (Mac), and Firefox 3.5 and greater (Windows, Mac, Linux).

Excel Web App 2010

This brings us to our topic of the day: Excel Web App 2010 . . . which is all about surfacing the power of the Excel spreadsheet through the web. If you take nothing else away from this article, I’d like you to take these points:

  1. High Fidelity.

    • Visual familiarity is maintained as much as possible in order to ensure your ease of use, and maximize the knowledge you have gained by using the Excel rich client. In my examples below, you will see how the Excel Web App looks and feels like the rich client.
    • Excel Web App uses the Excel file format – no conversion is required – which means the content and formulas you create are compatible in both the Excel rich client and Excel Web App. It also means that you can easily move between the two without fear of losing content or formatting.
  2. Correctness. Excel Web App leverages the same calculation technology as the Excel rich client and Excel Services. This means that not only are all the same formulas supported, but you can be assured you will get the same results regardless of how you are accessing your workbook.

Keeping those in mind, I am going to give you a taste of some of the capabilities you will find in the Excel Web App . . . a taste because over the next few weeks, there will be a number of postings on this blog which will go into much more detail.

The three capabilities introduced below are View, Edit, and Co-author.

View

When you first open an Excel spreadsheet using your browser, the first thing you will notice is the striking visual fidelity with the Excel client:

image

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Excel Client

Excel Web App

Figure 1: View mode in Excel and Excel Web App

As you can see, the content and formatting you have created appears with high fidelity in the browser. This includes numeric data, calculations, formatting, images, conditional formatting, charts1, and even new features available only in Excel 2010 such as Sparklines and Slicers.

As with Excel Services, there are a few features which are either partially supported – we show cached values or remove after alerting the user – and even fewer (IRM, Password protected files, etc.) which prevent the file from loading. Even though these tend to be lesser used features, we continue to work to reduce the list of such features.

And, instead of providing just a static view of the file contents, we have included a number of features, such as sorting, filtering, and find to allow data exploration while in view. And, dependent upon your rights to the file, you may also see “Open in Excel” and “Edit in Browser” buttons which allow you to transition to either the rich client or the browser to actually make changes to the file. Which is a nice introduction to . . .

Edit

Editing in the browser has been enabled and currently allows you to do basic spreadsheet operations such as data entry, formatting, and formula entry directly in the browser. I have put the spreadsheet shown above into edit mode:

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Figure 2: Edit mode in Excel Web App

Again, the first thing you will notice is the high visual fidelity; which now extends to the Office Fluent UI (aka Ribbon) which appears directly above the spreadsheet. You will also notice that there are not as many ribbon tabs or icons on the existing tables. This is due to the Excel Web App having a subset of the client’s capabilities. Additionally, editing the spreadsheet itself acts as you expect. For example, if I want to total the values of the top sections in the spreadsheet above, I select the cell where I want the sum, and start typing the formula . . . and the expected autofill information appears:

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Figure 3: Autofill in Excel Web App

Again, as this blog post is only an introduction, I will not go into further details about the editing capabilities.

Co-authoring:

I want to call your attention to the lower right corner of Figure 2 above where you see this status bar:

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Figure 4: Co-authoring status

This is a feature we think will be a hit with our users – it is the ability for multiple people to be editing the same Excel workbook. All of the capabilities mentioned in the Edit section above, but available to multiple users at the same time.

Summary:

As with my intro to Excel Services blog post, I likely created more questions than answers. Over the next few weeks there will be a number of posts on this blog which delve much deeper into the capabilities of Excel Web App 2010 and how it enables you to leverage Office 2010 to access documents from virtually anywhere, easily share your work, and to collaboratively work with others.

If you have read this far, congratulations! As a “reward”, here is a link which will allow you to use the Office Web Apps, to include Excel Web App, on SkyDrive: http://skydrive.live.com/acceptpreview.aspx/.documents?aobrp=browse.2If you do use the technical preview, I ask that you provide feedback about your experience.  We have provided a feedback link on the ribbon to allow you to impact our upcoming work.

Notes:
1 3D Charts are rendered as 2D
2 The Technical Preview is open to North American users, and requires a LiveID.