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Microsoft said Tuesday that it plans to introduce a pared down version of its Office productivity suite that can be accessed from the Web. The move is the latest sign that the software maker, facing increased competition from Google and other online players, is increasingly looking to the Internet as a delivery channel for its wares.
Office Web applications, as the online suite is called, will include "lightweight" versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote that will be available through a Web browser. "This provides a consistent Office experience when and where our customers want it," said Chris Capossela, senior VP at Microsoft's Business Division, in a statement.
Office Web applications will be available to consumers through Microsoft's Office Live portal, and to businesses through the company's subscription and volume licensing programs. The company did not disclose pricing or a definite release date. It said it would release a preview of the technology to developers later this year.
In launching the suite, Microsoft is looking to protect its flank from Google—which last year launched a host of free and low-cost office productivity applications under a brand called Google Apps. For a single, monthly fee per user, enterprises can roll out Google apps to as many employees as they like.
Google is making inroads with the offering in some key markets, such as government organizations. Earlier this year, city managers in Washington, D.C. replaced many of the city's desktop applications with Google Apps.
Hosted offerings like Google Apps and Microsoft's forthcoming Office Web offer users less complexity and easier maintenance. The downside is that hosted applications are not available for use if Internet access is cut off.
In the Web era, Microsoft is continuing to push traditional desktop applications and client operating systems while introducing complementary, hosted products. It's a strategy the company calls "software plus services." In keeping with that, Microsoft on Monday unveiled a hosted version of the Windows operating system called Windows Azure. "We are on a path to deliver all our technology as software plus services," said Capossela. Microsoft said it plans to sell Web Office directly and also through resellers and partners.