September 30, 2007 9:00 PM PDT

Microsoft Office heads to the Web

SEATTLE--In another clear sign that Microsoft sees the threat posed by its traditional business moving online, the company is readying a rival to Google's Documents and Spreadsheets.

The software maker is announcing Office Live Workspace, a free online tool for viewing, sharing and storing--but not editing--Office documents online. (Its existing Office Live efforts will be rebranded as Office Live Small Business.) It's not quite ready--starting Monday customers will be able to put in their name to be part of a beta testing program expected to begin later this year.

Still, the effort is a recognition that competition is heating up in the productivity arena, an area that large rivals had basically ceded to Microsoft a few years ago. In addition to Google's effort, which as of earlier this month also includes presentation software, IBM announced its free Lotus Symphony productivity software, which prompted 100,000 downloads in its first week of availability.

Adobe, meanwhile, on Monday is expected to announce it has acquired Virtual Ubiquity, a start-up that has built a Web-based word processor, called Buzzword, using Adobe's Flash and AIR technologies. Adobe is also introducing a service, code-named Share, that allows people to share and store documents via the Web.

A blend of online services and traditional software
For Microsoft, Office Live Workspace is also the next step in what the company touts as its "software plus services" strategy, essentially the notion that online services can serve as a complement to locally run software, but not necessarily fully replace software running on a consumer's own desktop machine or on a businesses server.

In some cases, though, Microsoft is also offering its traditional server software entirely as a hosted service. To start with, Microsoft is launching hosted versions of its Exchange e-mail and calendar program, its SharePoint portal software and Office Communications Server, its product for handling corporate instant messaging and telephony. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and other executives had previously said that such a service was coming.

Initially, the offer is aimed at large businesses that plan to use the software for more than 5,000 people. Microsoft Online Services, as that project is known, is born of a two-year-old effort in which companies such as Energizer Holdings and XL Capital essentially outsourced their desktop computing efforts to Microsoft.

Microsoft is moving cautiously with both efforts. By limiting the software hosting to the largest customers, it hopes to give partners that already offer hosted services some time to find a new niche and allow Microsoft to test itself with a smaller number of customers, before broadly offering the service directly. Partners will still be able to offer their own hosted service if they choose, or resell Microsoft's hosted service.

On the Office Live Workspace front, Microsoft will initially offer the product with no advertising, though Microsoft executives said that it has been designed so that ads can be shown in the future.

The company is also not allowing people to edit their documents online, but executives stressed over and over that Microsoft is committed to being the leader in productivity software and that includes online editing. (Translation: We don't think we need to have editing in there right now, but if that changes, we're prepared to do so.)

Another key project down the road is integrating Office Live Workspaces with other "Live" products such as Windows Live Hotmail and Windows Live Messenger, so that people will be able to view Office attachments they get via e-mail or IM. Google currently allows Gmail users to open attachments in Google Docs.

Microsoft has already said it has big plans for Office Live. At its partner conference in July, COO Kevin Turner said the product has the potential to be one of the company's top three or four most-used products.

Nor is the company stopping there. It is also planning an ad-funded version of Microsoft Works, has trialed prepaid cards for time-limited versions of Office and is exploring still other approaches to offer Office in as many ways as it can without overloading customers.

"We've put more of our marketing IQ behind alternative business models and alternative distribution strategies in the last two years," Corporate Vice President Chris Capossela said in an interview at the partner conference.

See more CNET content tagged:
Microsoft Office Live, Microsoft Office, Adobe Systems Inc., Microsoft Windows Live, Microsoft Corp.

27 comments

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Eureka! "Microsoft Office heads to the Web"...
... repeat, "Eureka! Microsoft Office heads to the Web"... Well, wake up folks - it must be time for that Fresh Brew Of IBM LOTUS "ISO Standardised KONA". Wow!
Posted by Commander_Spock (3123 comments )
Reply Link Flag
IBM/Lotus Symphony hit a flat note
No WK1 spreadsheet support in IBM/Lotus Symphony, no IRR/ERR support either.

In fact, StarOffice and OpenOffice.Org seem to provide more file formats than IBM/Lotus Symphony does. IBM crippled it. Both the Windows and Linux versions of Symphony are buggy and can cause system crashes. Just trying to render an ODF document caused my version of Symphony to crash and lock up, forcing me to kill it out of memory to get back control of my system.

Office Live seems to be a much better alternative, and available for more platforms than just Windows and Linux.
Posted by Troll Hard (182 comments )
Link Flag
"Not editing documents online"
Wait... what?!

Then what's the point? Yes, I know everyone and their mom has
Microsoft Word, but it seems Microsoft is missing the point a
little: We want to be able to make edits (even small ones) to docs
from afar, on our mobile phone with web access and while
sitting in an airport.

They have a good point: Desktop software isn't going to be
replace by web-based software anytime soon. However,
extremely basic editing functions, like changing the phrasing of
a sentence in a marketing document, is essential for an online-
based productivity suite. Without that, where's the productivity?
Posted by toosday (343 comments )
Reply Link Flag
And Round And Round The Wheel We Go!
"They have a good point: Desktop software isn't going to be replace by web-based software anytime soon. However, extremely basic editing functions, like changing the phrasing of a sentence in a marketing document, is essential for an online-based productivity suite. Without that, where's the productivity?" Did we not see a demonstration by two dudes at a Presentation of Lotus Notes Ver. 4.0 way back then indicating the ability to edit and collaborate on documents. So, what else is new from Redmond when it must certainly be possible to "Communicate", "Collaborate" and "Coordinate" with your colleagues around the world. Is this another brand of "aspirin" on the market!
Posted by Commander_Spock (3123 comments )
Link Flag
No editing = no value
Microsoft is kidding themselves if they think anyone will see any real value in this.

"online services can serve as a complement to locally run software". So true.

That's why a lot of people are finding Google Apps combined with OpenOffice.org is an excellent solution.
Posted by rcrusoe (1305 comments )
Reply Link Flag
MS still doesn't get it
Never have and never will under the archaic management they have now.
Posted by The_Decider (3097 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Another ZDNet numbskull...
...who routinely bashes Microsoft (largely just for being Microsoft), without providing a reason as to why. Ah, this online community tops them all!
Posted by a_pickle (21 comments )
Link Flag
I want everything RIGHT NOW!
OMG! Microsoft can't create web versions of Word & Excel overnight??!?!?!? What is the world coming to?

Get a clue people; Microsoft is just starting out here with "view online only, edit locally":

"...but executives stressed over and over that Microsoft is committed to being the leader in productivity software and that includes online editing."

I'm sure that as SharePoint is today the editing experience both online and offline will be smooth and seamless because a single company put together the end-to-end solution (kinda of like Apple does with its products).
Posted by kojacked (1129 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yeah
Editing is an advanced feature?

Any sort of Office program online or not that doesn't have editing is not ready for release.

No one will use it because of the lack of editing, and if they ever figure out how to add editing, it will be to late.

MS misses the boat, as usual.

What I think you mean is that MS is waiting to figure out how much to charge per month to enable editing.

Smooth and seamless does not and will likely never describe MS.
Posted by MSSlayer (1074 comments )
Link Flag
RE: Microsoft-Office-heads-to-the-Web
Over web based-Office apps, I believe this is much better alternative. The only main advantages of web-based office suite over the traditional desktop office suite are collaboration and versioning. This will level the playing ground.

Now, I've tried web apps and IMHO they suck for because browser-based apps cannot decently duplicate the functionalities of desktop apps, at least not with the current technologies we have right now. Have you seen the graph rendered by Google Docs? <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://arstechnica.com/news.media/mangled-3d-line.jpg" target="_newWindow">Horible</a>.
Posted by jhoeforth (90 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Who Cares!
Who cares if they are heading to the web? After so many bad encounters with their tech support, I switched to Ubuntu Linux. What a wonderful alternative. More and more of us are finding better customer service with Linux. Sorry to see what Microsoft has become.
Posted by Leon Gagnon (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
There is Zoho already
There is a major player already in the field
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.zoho.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.zoho.com/</a>
Posted by Rajendran Balasubramanyam (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Big time Cloners
Microsoft doesnt seem to produce anything original these days. All they do is - if someone comes up with something innovative - they just try to copy it and come up with a similar product having cloned everything. They are like big time cloners these days.
Posted by pramodpaluri (19 comments )
Reply Link Flag
RE: Big time Cloners
Umm.. <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.microsoft.com/surface/" target="_newWindow">Surface</a>? Silverlight (Please don't give me the crap that it's a Flash rip-off)? <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://labs.live.com/photosynth/" target="_newWindow">Photosynth</a>?

And lot's of 'em here:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://research.microsoft.com/" target="_newWindow">http://research.microsoft.com/</a>

And BTW, who innovates for you? Please enlighten us.
Posted by jhoeforth (90 comments )
Link Flag
Provide Basic Editing
If they would just provide the most basic editing, without all of the features, people would flock to it. And then they'd be hooked into buying or using the full version of Office for all the extra goodies.
Posted by Millerboy (104 comments )
Reply Link Flag
actually, nevermind
actually, I retract my comment above. What they're doing is fine for now. Hopefully, advertisements, and cross-marketing, cross-promoting of services, such as use Live email attachments to store Microsoft Office documents, and other stuff will provide revenues for MS Office Live.

And integrate Microsoft Photo Center or something too. Encarta encyclopedia would help students prepare reports, etc.
Posted by Millerboy (104 comments )
Link Flag
 

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