Microsoft Joins The Documents-For-Free Movement - InformationWeek

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10/1/2007
01:00 PM
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Microsoft Joins The Documents-For-Free Movement

It seems that online word processing has suddenly become sexy. Within hours of each other, both Microsoft and Adobe have joined Google, Zoho, and other companies in promoting new online document creating/sharing services. What gives?

It seems that online word processing has suddenly become sexy. Within hours of each other, both Microsoft and Adobe have joined Google, Zoho, and other companies in promoting new online document creating/sharing services. What gives?With Microsoft (which just announced the forthcoming Office Live Workspace) it may be simply that somebody at Redmond has finally figured out that they're no longer the only kids on the block. As J. Nicholas Hoover points out in his news piece, "Microsoft admits it hasn't been exactly forthcoming with its collaboration plans for Office until now," which means that the space has been wide open for free and increasingly popular online apps from Google, Zoho, and ThinkFree -- not to mention free downloadable desktop suites like OpenOffice.org and IBM's recently released Lotus Symphony.

Meanwhile, Adobe is apparently putting together an online document collaboration service that will include its latest acquisition, an online Flash-based word processor called Buzzword. Not all of Adobe's online services are free of charge -- for example, its Create PDF service is $10 a month -- but there's no reason to think that Adobe won't have the good sense to offer at least this application without cost.

In fact, it's become increasingly evident that basic applications such as word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation are moving out of the realm of for-pay software (if you don't count simple text editors such as WordPad) and into the new category of "free for individuals." Some of these services are financed via advertising; others by charging for more storage or increased functionality. The bottom line for many users, however, is that it's here, it's available, and it's free. Why pay several hundred dollars for Microsoft Office?

Well, because there are still plenty of things that you can do with Microsoft Office (or Corel's WordPerfect Office, for that matter) that haven't yet been matched online, such as indexing and columns. In addition, most online word processors haven't yet been able to sync their documents in real time so that users can have full editing access while away from an Internet connection. And while there are a number of online scheduling packages out there, and a plethora of Web-based e-mail services, there are (as far as I can tell) no applications that merge e-mail, scheduling, and contact management the way apps like Outlook can.

So Microsoft's shiny new Office 2007 suite isn't in jeopardy quite yet. But as more free applications become available, and as their feature sets continue to widen, it's obvious that office suite vendors will have to get on the wagon or be left behind. It will be interesting to see whether Microsoft will give Office Live Workspace enough muscle to really compete.

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