Free Microsoft Office Coming Online

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Microsoft has apparently seen the light, and is readying versions of Office applications that will be available for free on the Web.

Reuters reports that Stephen Elop, president of Microsoft's business division, has said Microsoft will launch a wide range of online Office and Office applications, with some of them, including Word and Excel, available for free.

He told Reuters:

"We expect fully that the full range of Office utilities, from the most advanced to simpler lightweight versions, will be available with a range of options: ad-funded, subscriptions-based, traditional licensing fees, and so forth. So you should expect to see that full array."

Elop offered no specific dates for when the online versions will be available, although he said that "in 2009 you're going to see a lot of advance in this area."

In fact, he expects that the faltering economy will add impetus to Microsoft's plans to release online versions of Office. He said that within five years, 50 percent of Exchange and Sharepoint use might be Web-based, and added:

"Between now and then, a year or two or whatever, if it's going to be tough economic times, that means we expect quite a lot of movement in that direction, a lot of people taking advantage of that. I think the economy will help it."

The move is a smart one, and even though it's taken a while for Microsoft to recognize it needs to make Office available online, it appears as if the company has finally gotten it right. Google Apps and other online Office applications have not yet taken away a significant market share from Office. Because of that, Microsoft will most likely succeed with its plans. In fact, to a great extent, online versions of applications may well be the future of the company.

Elop makes it clear that he recognizes that. At the conclusion of the Reuters article he admits that Microsoft may have underestimated the extent to which its customers want online versions of Office.

Recognizing that now, before the company loses market share, shows that Microsoft may well be headed in the right direction for future versions of Office.

This story, "Free Microsoft Office Coming Online" was originally published by Computerworld.

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