In an effort to keep pace with the growing number of free or low-cost desktop productivity tools available online, Microsoft said Monday that it plans to introduce a Web-based version of its Microsoft Office suite that consumers can use at no cost.
Office Web, as the offering is called, will be part of the Microsoft Office 2010 release, which is slated for the first half of next year. "It's going to be a great way for people to get their hands on these applications," said Chris Capossela, senior VP for Microsoft's Business unit, in an interview.
The free, online products will include the Office word processing application, the Excel spreadsheet, PowerPoint presentation software, and OneNote message pad. They'll be available directly through Microsoft's Windows Live portal and launch directly within a user's browser.
The move allows Microsoft to protect its flank from Web-based software from Google and from free, open source-based offerings, such as IBM's Lotus Symphony product.
Capossela said he doesn't believe Office Web will cannibalize the desktop version of Office, sales of which to consumers were down 30 percent in Microsoft's most recent quarter. "We haven't taken the approach where the Web apps are a duplication of the client apps," said Capossela. "We try to make them incredibly good for the device you are using," he added.
For instance, the Office Web version of PowerPoint will not contain the desktop version's high-performance video editing tools. "If you use Office on your PC, you're going to want to take full advantage of what your PC can do," said Capossela. The Web apps on the other hand will offer some features that won't be found on the desktop versions, such as the ability to embed tags into documents and post them on blogs.
Microsoft also announced that businesses that purchase volume subscriptions to Office will receive access to the Office Web apps at no additional charge.
Microsoft has about 90 million such customers. It also has roughly 400 million Windows Live users. "There will be almost a half-billion users who will have access to Office Web at launch," said Capossela.
At its Worldwide Partner conference in New Orleans, Microsoft also revealed on Monday that Office 2010 has reached the technical preview stage, meaning the software is available for selected professionals to download and test. The company expects to ship a beta version in the second half of this calendar year.
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