Last week, Microsoft announced the Tech Preview of the Microsoft Office Web Applications. These long-awaited web applications are "lite" versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. The technical preview is for an invitation-only audience and its functionality is limited, so I'd like to focus on some of what you can expect over the coming months as the products enter broader beta and are officially released. I also want to share an invitation to join me, live online, this week!

The Microsoft Office Web Applications are shortened to OWA, which might be confused with Outlook Web Access. Why didn't Microsoft just shorten it to MOWA? Because that's what they offer: more! I'm so excited to see these things hit the street because they offer functionality that is sorely missing in the enterprise, and they will knock a serious blow to other wanna-be online productivity suites. I was lucky enough to use the early versions of OWA and the experience was stunning. The UI is beautiful, performance was peppy, and because the web apps share the same, ribbon-based UI as the client applications, users require almost no training to get up and running. OWA is part of Microsoft's "three screens" strategy aimed at providing functionality across PC, browser, and mobile devices. While these applications are "lite" versions of the full-blown Office applications and many reviewers will focus on what they don't do, let's highlight the fact that they do most everything that most users do on a regular basis. And that's a lot more than competing online web apps can do! And OWA highlights Microsoft's continued emphasis on interoperability: The applications will run on Internet Explorer (of course) as well as Firefox and Safari, meaning you'll be able to use OWA from Macs, Linux systems, and even the iPhone!

The strategic fit for web apps is easy to understand: Users often need the ability to view, edit, and collaborate around documents but don't always have access to a system with a full installation of Office. That can be done with OWA. Wait, did I say "collaborate around"? One of the coolest features of OWA is that users can work on a document at the same time and see each other's changes in real time! That even includes Excel worksheets. And OWA integrates beautifully with Office 2010, allowing you to take a document offline for editing with the full-fidelity client application and return it online.

I can tell you that my experience with OWA has been impressive. Microsoft is making a very wise move to enable consumer, small business, and enterprise use of web applications in a way that leverages the existing knowledge and experience of the user base. That alone will significantly reduce barriers to entry. Consumers will be able to access OWA through Windows Live, and OWA will be made available as part of Microsoft Online. Beyond that, let me just say that we've not yet heard the full story, as evidenced by the “Sneak Peek” sessions at the SharePoint Conference . There's more to tell in about four weeks!

My colleague Paul Thurrott has more details at his SuperSite for Windows.

Speaking of conferences, I'd like to invite you to join me, live and online, this Thursday for what will be my last webinar on only Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 (WSS 3.0) and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS 2007). Soon we'll be adding SharePoint 2010 to the mix. I'll be sharing three of my most popular sessions. The first addresses designing the logical structure of SharePoint to support governance and information management. The second shares under-documented and misunderstood administrative best practices and tips. The third looks at what you can do to get big wins out of what I call "Business Intelligence Lite." All three of these sessions are highly applicable to both WSS and MOSS environments. I hope you can join me! It's not too late to register!