In a move to combat the growing use of Google Apps, Microsoft told developers on Monday it will make the key applications in its Office 2010 suite available free online. The announcement came at the company's Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans.
Anyone with a free Windows Live account will be able to use Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote online. That will allow users to easily create, edit and share documents with others.
While Microsoft said it will try to make the online versions similar to their Office 2010 counterparts, it's not likely that they will be identical to the paid versions. The suite and its Web counterparts are expected in the first half of 2010.
Google has already announced a challenge to Microsoft's Windows operating-system franchise with plans for a Chrome operating system. If entrepreneurs are any indication, Microsoft may have reason to worry.
According to news reports, Silicon Valley startups already favor Google Apps over Microsoft Office. One attraction is that the apps are free, and the entrepreneurs may be among the first to try the Chrome OS when it's released.
Google is initially aiming the Chrome OS at netbooks and is working with PC makers and Intel to get hardware into the fast-growing market with its OS installed. Microsoft currently dominates the operating systems on netbooks, as it does on PCs.
The entrepreneurs have noted that Microsoft's Office software doesn't allow document sharing, which can be done with Web applications. They also noted that Google's online applications are available worldwide, and there's no need for user tech support, since bug fixes are applied to everyone at once.
Even among enterprises, some companies are allowing the use of Google Apps, but they may still hold on to Microsoft Windows and Office. That's because Microsoft is deeply entrenched in many offices, which still pass back and forth documents like Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.