Microsoft Office Web Apps – Now Live & Free

Have you been waiting for Microsoft to finally put its Office applications into the cloud? Have you been waiting for Microsoft to put a “free” tag on those apps? Well, your time has come. Office Web Apps, MS’ free online version of its Office suite, is now live on SkyDrive and available for U.S., U.K., Ireland and Canada-based users.

With the simple creation of a Windows Live account, you can start playing with the new tools. You will find browser-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and even OneNote that mimic much of the look and function of their desktop sibilings. Silverlight improves some of the experience (such as uploading multiple docs at the same time), but is unnecessary. All modern browsers will work with the tools. It’s not the desktop experience, for sure. But it meets Google Docs head on. You can upload (drag and drop!), collaborate with others, create within the web environment, print right from the browser and read docs on your smart phone. And, if you have Office 2010 installed locally (releasing next week), the web counterparts really sparkle with a seamless desktop / web experience. With 25GB of free storage on SkyDrive, this combination of features is nothing to sneeze at.

The Windows team is also promising lots of Office features will be integrated into Hotmail, so stay tuned to that.

Check out The Window Blog (link here) for more information and screenshots. All Hail the Cloud!

Pining For Long-Form News

Short form journalism definitely has its place in our modern, fast-paced, Web environment. “Real-time” implies “short-tail” and even shorter attention spans. But long-form news articles (generally in excess of 4,000 words), requiring a greater depth of investigation and crafting, still have their place in our reading lists. Or should have their place, anyway.

Enter Longform.org. Think of it as a semi-curated, highlighting service for web-based long-form journalism. With its close ties with Instapaper, the web and mobile device-based off-line reading tool, you can easily bookmark these longer piece and save them in Instapaper for more leisurely reading.

Topics are broad, ranging from crime to tech, with editors’ picks and access to archives. There are approximately 50 stories in archives. You can even submit your own suggestions as to worthy long-form articles and they will be considered for inclusion. Candidates for inclusion are driven either by top-notch writing or compelling topics.

There are RSS feeds for all stories and for editors’ picks. Another small, but important, detail is the serving of the entire story in one swoop, rather than breaking up the story into approximately 450 word increments by web news outlets, requiring serial clicking to get the entire piece.

The site’s simple, journalistic look reminds me of paging through my beloved New Yorker Magazine. Not much there in terms of bells and whistles and, thankfully, no advertising.

If you love to read well-written, fully developed, topical pieces and would love the freedom and flexbility of serving them up from the Web, try Longform.org.