Chinese Microsoft Office rival launching on Web soon

A Chinese company that offers a rival suite to Microsoft Office is following industry trends by turning its software into a Web-based service.

Evermore Software, based in the eastern Chinese city of Wuxi, has for years offered a software suite that looks very similar to Microsoft Office but costs less. Now the company sees its rivals moving online, and it is designing a Web version of its suite to compete with the likes of Google Docs and Microsoft's upcoming Office Web apps.

"Everyone is searching for what form the online office should take, including Microsoft," Wang Yuanbing, vice president of Evermore, said in an interview.

Evermore has long offered a desktop version of its Java-based suite, Evermore Integrated Office. Icons and functions resemble those in Microsoft Office, but the program opens its equivalents of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint all in one window, rather than as separate applications. Users can tab between the sections, link parts of their content together and save documents in all of the sections as one joint file.

The company recently added a Web-based Chinese-English dictionary as a toolbar in its desktop program, said Rong Mingjun, an Evermore spokesman. More Web-based content, such as other user tools or ads, could feed into the program later, he said.

Evermore is little-known outside China. But over 20 million users have downloaded the personal version of Evermore Integrated Office, and state-owned enterprises and government offices around China use the business version, said Rong. The suite, which runs on Windows and Linux, has some users in the U.S. and other countries but is focused on China so far, he said.

WebOffice, a Web-based version of Evermore's suite, will keep its Microsoft Office style but run in Internet Explorer or Firefox. Like Google Docs, the application stores a user's work on a remote server that can be accessed by logging in from any computer.

Most of the work on WebOffice is already done. The Web-based suite has already been announced and is currently undergoing final testing.

Evermore will also offer an intranet version of WebOffice that runs on a company's internal servers and can be linked into other office software, such as Lotus Notes. An initial server version could be released this month, Rong said.

Evermore has not announced pricing for WebOffice, but it sells the enterprise version of its latest offline suite for just below 1,200 yuan (US$176). The basic, personal version of the software is free. By comparison, Microsoft Office Standard 2007 costs about $400.

Evermore's combination of applications into one window should make its product appeal to businesses, but the company needs to do more marketing to attract private sector users, said Emily Bian [cq], a senior analyst at IDC China.

"Their product is actually pretty attractive," said Bian. "For now they need to strengthen their branding."

Evermore, Microsoft and others could benefit by offering Web-based versions of their software in China, she said. Rampant use of pirated programs in Chinese homes and offices cuts into revenue for software makers in the country.

Rather than charging license fees for their programs, software makers can offer them for free online and bring in revenue from ads or from user fees for value-added services, said Bian.

But even Evermore agreed it faces stiff competition from Microsoft Office, which dominates the global market.

"I believe we will maintain some competitive strengths relative to Microsoft," Rong said. "Of course, having an edge in technology is not the same as an edge in the market."

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