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Microsoft Joins Online Productivity Battle With Office Live Workspaces

The software lets people store, share, and collaborate on Word, PowerPoint, and Excel documents online and share their desktop with one another.

Microsoft on Monday is expected to announce a free product called Office Live Workspaces for accessing and sharing documents online, which will enter testing "shortly," perhaps later this year. The software is expected to allow the vendor an offering to make its "software-plus-services" strategy real to the average Joe.

Office Live Workspace let people can store, share, and collaborate on Word, PowerPoint, and Excel documents online and share their desktop with one another. "People are e-mailing documents all the time," said Eric Gilmore, a Microsoft senior product manager for Microsoft Office. "That's an inefficient way to do things when you want to work together."

Business users are desperate for better online, real-time collaboration, and Microsoft has been seen as a laggard behind the likes of Google, with its online Docs & Spreadsheets, and Zoho, which also offers an online productivity suite. Both are free, don't require a download, and let users edit and share documents online. So far, they have only some of the functionality of Office, particularly Excel and PowerPoint, and that's one of the main reasons they haven't been a big threat to Office's stronghold.

Office Live Workspace mixes Web functionality with a small download. With it, people can save a Word, Excel, or PowerPoint document to the Workspace Web site by clicking a toolbar button in their Office app itself. Authors can store, share, or allow others to comment on or even edit the documents, and have granular control over who they let in. The site lets non-Office users view and comment on documents as well as Office users. Much of that is reminiscent of what employees at larger businesses can do with SharePoint, though Microsoft won't say for now whether Office Live Workspace is based on SharePoint. There's also a tie-in with Outlook's tasks and events features, though Microsoft isn't yet saying how that works.

A desktop-based feature of Workspace expected to be available Monday as a beta, SharedView (formerly code-named Tahiti), lets people make and see changes to documents in real-time as well as share open applications. Participants will be able to see who made each change to the document in question. The person who initiates the SharedView session controls who gets to edit at any one time; Gilmore implies customers have mixed feelings about truly simultaneous editing. Though SharedView will become integrated with Office Live Workspace, there's no indication that it won't also remain available as a standalone product.

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