Microsoft finally reveals Web-based Office suite

Microsoft on Tuesday will give developers a preview of a hosted version of Office after more than a year of speculation about when the company would put its productivity suite on the Web to compete with Google Docs.

At the Professional Developers Conference on Tuesday, Microsoft will demonstrate a "lightweight" hosted version of Office, called Web Applications for Office, that includes Web-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, said Janice Kapner, senior director of Microsoft's Information Worker group.

Microsoft's Office desktop productivity suite is one of its biggest revenue generators and most popular software offerings, which may explain why the company has waited so long to introduce a hosted version of the suite. In the meantime, Google Docs, a Web-based office suite, is beginning to gain some traction among enterprise users as a real Office competitor, although it is nowhere close to being as widely used as Microsoft's software.

A technical preview of hosted Office will be available later this year, but Microsoft is not announcing specifics on pricing or availability of the full suite. However, Kapner said it eventually will be offered through Microsoft volume licensing and through Microsoft's Office Live set of small-business hosted applications.

Microsoft initially will hold back features from the desktop version of Office in its hosted version, and Kapner was noncommittal on whether Microsoft's hosted version would have as many features as the desktop suite. She said it would depend on customer demand if the two would ever have the same exact feature set.

Microsoft has adopted a "software plus services" approach as the industry moves toward using Web-based offerings either in place of traditional software or alongside it. Web Applications for Office is a part of this strategy, allowing Microsoft to respect the needs of existing Office desktop users while staying current with the industry's overall move to hosted services.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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