Office 14 Web Apps: Microsoft Takes on Google Docs and Netbooks

Office 14 will finally deliver useful Web-based versions of Office Apps. As Microsoft fights back against Google Docs, it's also providing a way for Office apps to run on Linux-based netbooks.

Tue, April 07, 2009

CIO — The next version of Microsoft Office, code-named Office 14, will include lightweight but fully-functional versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote that can run in a browser.

Called Office Web Applications, the service will be in beta later this year, according to Microsoft, but the final versions of the Office Web apps won't come until the desktop version of Office 14 is also done. Steve Ballmer announced in February that this won't happen until 2010.

Office Web Applications follow through on Microsoft's promise to deliver "software plus services" and are a belated move to get productivity tools online to curb the threat of free, Web-based apps from Google, Zoho and Microsoft currently has a free service called Office Live Workspace that lets users view and share — but not edit — Office documents. Office Live Workspace never took off in a meaningful way with most enterprise users.

<br/><a href="" target="_new" title="Microsoft Office Web Applications Demo">Video: Microsoft Office Web Applications Demo</a>

To keep more users from moving to Office alternatives, Microsoft is not tying the forthcoming Office Web Applications to Internet Explorer. The company has confirmed that Office Web Applications will work on the Firefox browser and Apple's Safari browser. It has also insinuated, though not fully confirmed, that Office Web Apps will work on the iPhone.

So via the Firefox browser, Microsoft Office will run on Linux machines, giving Office a route onto Linux-based netbooks and smartphones that it didn't have before. If Linux-based netbooks begin to increase market share, Microsoft will be losing OS dollars, but would at least be able to offer Office apps on Linux machines.

Microsoft Could No Longer Ignore Web-based Tools

Rob Enderle, industry analyst and president of consulting firm The Enderle Group, says that making Office an online service did not come lightly to Microsoft. Office Web apps could conflict with the revenue of the Office desktop suite, which still dominates the market. Nearly three in four North American online adults use paid Microsoft Office products, according to research firm Forrester.

"I'll bet this is being argued really hard within Microsoft," says Enderle. "They know this is the direction the market is going in but are worried about prematurely cannibalizing their existing revenue stream or delivering a product that doesn't meet expectations."

For Microsoft, the business impact of Web-based productivity tools like Google Docs has actually been quite small — to date. According to a recent survey by Forrester Research, only 3 percent of North American online adults use Google Docs, even though 84 percent use Web-based e-mail.

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