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29.10.2008 Technology

Microsoft moving its Office to the Web

By Benjamin J. Romano - Seattle Times technology

LOS ANGELES — In addition to the online-services components of Windows 7, Microsoft announced plans Tuesday to provide online versions of its other highly lucrative products: Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote that will run in a Web browser.

Janice Kapner, head of communications for Microsoft's "information worker" group, which produces Microsoft Office products, said the company decided to unveil its plans — which have been an ongoing topic of speculation — to be part of the broader cloud computing and online services announcements that have headlined the company's Professional Developers Conference here this week.

"We're here sharing at PDC so that people recognize that Office is part of the bigger strategy for the cloud," she said. "I know people have been talking about this stuff for a long time, but customers ... are really now embracing it much more than just talking about it."

Google beat Microsoft to the market for online productivity products with its Google Docs and Spreadsheets offering, which Microsoft has dismissed as too short on features to be a real competitor to its dominant Office products. Office has nearly 500 million users globally and was the main driver of the Microsoft Business Division's $18.9 billion in fiscal 2008 revenue (more than 31 percent of the company's total).

But Microsoft clearly sees the niche Google has filled and appears unwilling to cede it to the Internet search giant. Microsoft hopes the offering will also cut down on piracy of Office.

Microsoft is building "lightweight" versions of the four key pieces of its Office suite, which will be sold to businesses through volume licensing agreements and as hosted services — paid as a subscription — much like the Microsoft online services the company provides now for its server products such as Exchange and Sharepoint.

The company gave few details on its schedule for bringing online Office to market, other than a planned technology preview — limited to a select group — by the end of the year.

Kapner did say that the online offerings are part of the next version of Office, currently going by the name Office 14. Microsoft has been mum on the product's schedule.

Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or [email protected]