Docs: Microsoft Office for Facebook

We knew Microsoft was planning on putting their ubiquitous Office productivity suite in the cloud alongside the launch of the 2010 version, but I don’t think anyone was expecting this: Microsoft has announced the launch of “Docs,” a Facebook app -- also available at docs.com -- built on Office 2010 that lets users create, edit, and share documents. Here’s some perspective.

Microsoft issued the introduction to the unexpected cloud move in the most appropriate way possible: a document downloadable from Docs itself. The document explains that Docs and docs.com are the product of Microsoft’s FUSE Labs, which has the mission to explore “future social experiences,” and that it’s using the Web Apps technology at the heart of the upcoming Office Web release.

Much like competitor Google Apps, users can either create their documents, spreadsheets, or presentations on the web or upload them from a local drive. In addition to the expected ability to share the file with a few friends, you can publish it so that the whole world can see it.

Unfortunately, also like Google Apps, you need to open up Microsoft Office to get the full range of editing capabilities, as Docs doesn’t yet support really rich editing.

My favorite part of Docs from the admittedly short time I’ve spent tooling around with it (especially since it’s currently in invite-only beta) is that, when you access it from docs.com, it integrates Facebook content without using their GUI or going overboard with the branding. It looks to be professional and simple and relatively distraction-free.

Google resellers probably shouldn’t worry overmuch about Docs. It doesn’t appear to be a totally mature solution, and the fact that it requires Facebook to operate probably undercuts its business value at least a little. That said, how people react to Docs is going to be a good indicator of how they react to Office Web.

If response is positive, then VARs reselling Office are in a perfect place for a sales pitch. And that goes double if you’re planning on adding hosted Office Web to your portfolio.

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