Microsoft Readies Launch of Free, Cloud-Based Office Apps

The software giant sets the date for the consumer release of Office 2010 and its browser-based Office Web Apps. Will a cloud edition of Office undercut sales of one of Microsoft's main cash cows?


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Microsoft has confirmed that the free editions of its Office Web Apps -- the Web-based versions of the company's core productivity applications, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote -- will debut on June 15, the same date that consumer editions of the Office 2010 suite will also go on sale.

The full-scale Office 2010 applications became available for volume buyers on Wednesday, when the company officially launched the business editions of Office 2010 during a gala at New York's NBC Studios. The launch also included the debut of Office Web Apps for volume-licensing customers.

During a Q&A session with media following the launch, Chris Capossela, senior vice president of the Information Worker Product Management Group, also confirmed the June 15 date for the next wave of releases. That wave includes the Consumer versions of Office, which also comes with access to Office Web Apps, as well as the free, ad-supported edition of the cloud-based suite.

That edition of Office Web Apps will be free to Windows Live users, the company has said. Additionally, users of Microsoft Online Services cloud applications can subscribe to Office Web Apps. (Microsoft claims that it has 40 million users signed up for its Microsoft Online Services, such as hosted Exchange accounts.)

The Office Web Apps -- Microsoft's response to the growing tide of competitors, including Google Docs, offering Office-like functions inside a browser -- will run in Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) Safari.

The Web Apps themselves are stripped-down versions of the core Office apps.

That's a fine line to walk if you're Microsoft and have to release Web versions of your most profitable applications in order to keep interlopers at bay, said one analyst.

"Microsoft doesn't want to make the Office Web Apps so good that it cannibalizes sales of the [the full suite of] Office 2010," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told InternetNews.com.

However, Microsoft could be poised in one fell swoop to bypass its cloud-based rivals. The company has said that it has some 400 million Windows Live users that will have access to the Office Web Apps for free, as long as they don't mind the ads.

Windows Live users will have to link their accounts to Live SkyDrive, Microsoft's cloud-based data storage and file-sharing service.

For all others, running the Office Web Apps requires a service provider, however, since the functionality of the applications resides on a server or servers in the cloud. That means that, to run, they require a SharePoint 2010 server to host the apps.

"Consumers only need to have a Windows Live ID to access Office Web Apps on SkyDrive. They are free and are not dependent on having Office 2010, but the experience is better using both together," a Microsoft spokesperson told InternetNews.com.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

Tags: cloud computing, Microsoft, software, Office 2010, Office

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