Microsoft Surprises with Free Office Apps

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The surprises from Microsoft just keep coming. The most interesting aspect of this week's Microsoft Office 2010 announcements was that the online web version of Office 2010 apps will be free. That's free from three perspectives; free to users with a Windows Live account, free Microsoft hosted Office Web apps, and free customer hosted Office Web apps for Microsoft Software Assurance enterprise customers. Free, free, free. Only SMBs who opt for Office 2010 web apps instead of buying regular Office software will have to pay extra, some estimate at a comparable (to Google Apps Premier Edition) $50 price. It may not be $50 but I'll bet that's not too far off.

Yes, Office 2010 web apps will be lesser functional cousins of the full software versions, but there's a good chance many will be able to make use of the web versions of Office, otherwise why would Microsoft bother offering it for free to Software Assurance customers, and in a paid version targeted at SMBs? I expect one of the biggest pluses of Office web apps is their integration with SharePoint 2010, giving the apps a full backend data store to organize and access documents, and an integrated experience via a SharePoint portal. Office web apps gives SharePoint an extra leg up on the competition, by embedding a much richer set of apps into the portal software, vs. the standard web page editing form nearly all other portal and wiki technologies rely upon.

Microsoft's strategy here is to offer the best of all worlds; rich installed apps and web versions, standalone office apps and Office integrated into SharePoint, and a pubic Windows Live version offering, Microsoft hosted offering or customer internally hosted option. Google's only giving users one option; Google web apps are only hosted on Google's servers, and there's nothing near an equivalent to SharePoint 2010 and Workspace 2010 (formerly Groove) from Google. Other than being the "anti-Microsoft" option, Google looks pretty limited in comparison. Microsoft Office web apps may also eat into the uses of open source Open Office software, since

Microsoft's web apps will work under Firefox and Safari, in addition to IE. (Notice not Google Chrome support.)

I stand by what I said in last week's post, Google's Still No Threat To Microsoft even more so.

This story, "Microsoft Surprises with Free Office Apps" was originally published by Network World.

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