Facebook’s new messaging platform has built-in Office Web Apps

Killing recent rumors that it’s launching an e-mail killer, Facebook today unveiled a new messaging system that will envelope e-mail, instant messages, Facebook messages and SMS.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg launched what he calls a “modern messaging system” to handle the convergence of different kinds of messages and bring them together under one social umbrella. The system is designed to save all of these messages for five years, meaning users will have a history of their communications.

Although people will now be able to have a facebook.com e-mail address, Andrew Bosworth, a software engineer at Facebook, noted that the new system will work with other e-mail systems, such as Gmail and Yahoo mail.

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At this point, the messaging system — code-named Titan — will not include voice chat. Zuckerberg said that should be coming down the road, but offered no timeline.

For the last three or four days, the Internet has been abuzz with speculation that Facebook was getting ready to launch an e-mail killer. Zuckerberg kicked off today’s news event by saying that’s not the case.

“There was a lot of press leading up to this saying this is an e-mail killer,” he added. “This is not an e-mail killer. It’s a messaging system that has e-mail as one part of it. I don’t expect people to wake up tomorrow and say, ‘I’m going to shut down my Yahoo account or my Gmail account.’ We expect that more people will IM and more people will message just because it’s simpler and easier and it’s more fun and valuable to use.”

Zuckerberg and Bosworth also pointed out that the messaging system doesn’t exclude non-Facebook users. Users will be able to send and receive messages from people who aren’t on Facebook.

The Facebook CEO also noted that the messaging system will give users different messaging channels.

“It seems wrong that an e-mail message from your best friend gets sandwiched between a bill and a bank statement,” he said. “It’s not that those other messages aren’t important, but one of them is more meaningful. With new Messages, your inbox will only contain messages from your friends and their friends. All other messages will go into other folders where you can look at them separately.”

A few users will be invited to use the new messaging system starting today and will be rolled out to all users over the next several months.

Microsoft today announced that its Office Web Apps will be integrated with the new Facebook messaging that the latter unveiled early Monday.
Facebook’s messaging service will support attachments of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents, according to Takeshi Numoto , an executive in the Office group.

Users who lack a copy of Office installed on their computers will be able to view Facebook-delivered Word, Excel and PowerPoint attachments using Office Web Apps, said Numoto.

Only people who have the desktop version of Office will be able to download, edit and save attachments, however.

Office Web Apps is Microsoft’s stripped-down, online-only version of its desktop suite. The online applications — Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote — launched in June.

A single-click on the Facebook-delivered attachment — by choosing “View on Office.com” — displays the document in the user’s browser. Alternately, people can click “Download” to download the file, which can then be opened with Office, assuming the suite is on the machine.

Office Web Apps supports Internet Explorer 7 and later, Firefox 3.5 and later, Chrome and Safari 4 and later.

Microsoft is retaining the mash-up Docs.com , which lets Facebook users share Office documents. Microsoft’s Fuse Labs group launched that service last April.

“[Docs.com] will continue in parallel as we continue to test how ‘the social’ and productivity come together for users,” a Microsoft spokeswoman said today.

Also on Monday, the Docs.com team announced that the service has been integrated with Facebook’s new Groups feature, which will let Facebook members share Word, Excel and PowerPoint files with selected groups of friends.

Docs.com also relies on Office Web Apps if the user lacks the desktop version of Office. Unlike the Facebook messaging integration, however, with Docs.com, users can also create and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents with Office Web Apps.

The Office Web Apps integration will roll out gradually over the next several months as Facebook offers it to members in stages.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld.

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