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Microsoft's web Office: No love for Chrome, Opera

(not to mention IE6)

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If your browser-of-choice is Google Chrome or Opera, don't expect much love from Microsoft's upcoming Office Web Apps, scheduled to appear along with Office 2010 next year.

Last October, when Redmond announced its upcoming suite of browser-based competition to Google Docs and Spreadsheets et al., it said that Office Web Apps would "be compatible with familiar web browsers."

Apparently, Microsoft isn't familiar with Google Chrome or Opera, or, for that matter, Internet Explorer 6 or the Windows version of Apple's Safari. They're not on the official list of supported browsers included in a recent blog posting by the Office Web Apps Team - a posting, ironically enough, entitled "The Office Web Apps Love Your Browser."

Official support for the Office Web Apps limits that love to Internet Explorer 7 and 8; Firefox 3.5 on Windows, Mac, and Linux; and Safari 4 on Mac. And that's it.

The posting goes on to say that "If you prefer to use another browser you should still give the Web Apps a try. While we cannot officially support all browsers, customers will not be blocked from using them. It is a goal of the Web Apps to have broad compatibility and reach."

In response to a disappointed Opera user's posting in the blog's comments, Team member Gareth Howell said that he was "sorry that we didn't get your favorite browser into the officially supported list this time," but he added, "Once the Web Apps release we'll investigate expanding our supported browser matrix. Give it a try in Opera and let us know if you see issues."

NetApplications' most recent figures for worldwide browser marketshare, from July of this year, cites the leading browser to be IE 6, with a share of 27.21 per cent. IE 7 slots in right behind, with 23.09 per cent, followed by Firefox 3.0 with 16.21, IE 8 with 12.46, Firefox 3.5 with 4.54, Chrome 2.0 with 2.37 (3.0 is at 0.13), and Safari 4.0 with 2.22. Opera clocks in below IE 8 running in compatibility mode (2.12) at 1.73 per cent.

NetApplications's figures are always to be taken with a healthy dollop of skepticism, but according to their calculations, Office Web Apps will be supported on a bit over 40 per cent of the world's browsers. Adding Chrome and Opera would boost that total by less than four per cent.

It's admittedly quite tempting to speculate that Chrome was left out because of the online-app rivalry between Microsoft and Google - not to mention Google's recently announced Chrome OS - and that Opera is being snubbed because of all the trouble that company has given Microsoft in the EU. However, it's more likely that the numbers simply don't justify the effort required.

Apple's Safari has low worldwide numbers as wel, but it's far more prevalent in the US than in enormous emerging markets such as India and China, and Microsoft may simply be taking care of its Yankee homies. Plus, Redmond and Cupertino have had a long-standing "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" relationship.

If Microsoft were only seeking numbers in its browser support for Office Web Apps, it would manage to somehow make those lightweight Office apps bulletproof on IE 6. Fortunately, however, Redmond is smart enough not to support it on that doddering, porous browser.

If anything, lack of IE 6 support might nudge recalcitrant corporations and individuals to replace that legacy laggard with the much more secure IE 7 or 8 - which Microsoft would clearly prefer to moving those IE 6ers to Chrome or Opera. ®

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