Microsoft Launching Online Version of Office Software

By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 4, 2008

In a half-step into the growing realm of Web-based computing, Microsoft is announcing a service that allows users to extend their use of the company's dominant Office software into the online world.

With some fanfare -- a stunt scheduled for today in New York featuring actor Jeremy Piven and scripts of HBO's "Entourage" -- the software giant said it was opening to the public a test version of its "Office Live Workspace," a service that allows users to save Office documents such as memos and spreadsheets online so that they may be accessed by other users connected to the Web.

"We are responding to the most urgent needs of the 500 million Office users. They want to access their documents anywhere," said Guy Gilbert, a senior product manager for Microsoft.

The venerable software giant's embrace of the Web, however, is relatively tentative.

Microsoft's fortune has long rested with the sales of software that users have installed on their own computers, not computing over the Internet. Increasingly, however, as more computing is done online, the company's dominance has been challenged, and it has sought to move to the Web.

While similar products offered by Google, Zoho and others allow users to do word processing and use spreadsheets online for free, the new Microsoft approach simply allows users who already have purchased their Office software to make easier use of it online.

Microsoft Office Live enables users to save more than 1,000 Microsoft Office documents to one place online. With the software, a user or collaborators can access the documents and make changes.

Asked about what users might expect of Microsoft's Office Web efforts in the future, Gilbert said, "nothing is really off the table."

In a separate announcement yesterday, Microsoft said it would offer its online business services to companies of all sizes. Formerly, those services were limited to firms with at least 5,000 users.

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