LOS ANGELES--After years of questioning the value of Net-based productivity applications, Microsoft confirmed Tuesday that it will offer new versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint that can run from within a standard Web browser.
In an interview, Microsoft Business Division President Stephen Elop said that the browser-based editing capabilities are being developed in conjunction with the next version of Office, known as Office 14. Microsoft won't say when that version will arrive, but Elop said that a technology preview of the browser-based products will come later this year and that a beta version will be released in 2009.
Microsoft will offer browser-based Word, Excel, and PowerPoint in two ways. For consumers, they will be offered via Microsoft's Office Live Web site, while businesses will be able to offer browser-based Office capabilities through Microsoft's SharePoint Server product.
The company has been pushed into this arena by Google, which has been offering its free Google Apps programs for some time. In competing with Google, Microsoft is touting the ability to use Microsoft's familiar user interface, as well as the fact that all of the document's characteristics are preserved.
"If you go into some competitive products right now and take a Word document in and then spit it out afterword, it's unrecognizable," Elop said. "You lose a lot of fidelity."
Elop said that not all of the editing capabilities of the desktop products are in the browser versions. "The editing we are characterizing as lightweight editing," he said.
Although Google Apps has seen most of its popularity among consumers, it has started to attract attention from corporate customers. Google Apps got a strong look from Procter & Gamble, which only decided to stick with Office after a strong push from Microsoft. Part of that pitch, Elop said, included Microsoft offering details on its plans for the Web-based versions of the Office programs.
"This was part of the conversation, absolutely," Elop said. "We have been sharing with customers under varying circumstances to a greater or lesser extent."
Although he didn't name names, Elop said Microsoft has found itself in a competitive situation with Google in other business accounts as well.