Microsoft Debuts Free Office Web Apps Early

Microsoft’s enterprise IT customers got access to its Web-based Office web Apps on May 12, when the company released the corporate version of Office 2010.

Now, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has released a free version of Office Web Apps that may well appeal to small business owners and other budget-constrained organizations. The announcement comes a week before Office 2010 makes its commercial debut on June 15. The news was revealed in a post on Microsoft’s Windows Live blog this week.

“Office Web Apps on SkyDrive are now available to everyone in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Ireland,” Jason Moore, principal lead program manager for Windows Live SkyDrive, said in the post. Live SkyDrive is Microsoft’s cloud-based and free, password-protected online storage and file sharing service.

Office Web Apps are the Web-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, created by Microsoft partly as a defensive response to Google’s (NASDAQ: GOOG) Web-based Google Docs applications.

Microsoft has said that the cloud-based Office Web Apps will be available free to around 400 million users who have Windows Live IDs. Meanwhile, the corporate versions of Office 2010 include the Web Apps, which are provided via the SharePoint 2010 collaboration server.

In addition to home users, the free version of Office Web Apps may also attract some small business computing users, who may not need to buy more than one copy of Office 2010.

For instance, a small business user who farms work out to several freelance writers to write short documents and store them online, might buy Office 2010 but have all of the writers use Office Web Apps.

Will Office 2010 Still Rule?

No surprise then that one analyst doesn’t see the Web Apps as a serious threat to Office 2010 sales — at least not at this point.

Instead, Matt Rosoff, research vice president for consumer products and services at Directions on Microsoft, thinks they are much more likely to use the Web Apps for editing and portability than as their main productivity suite.

“Nobody uses all of the Office features, but everyone has their own favorites which are not necessarily included in the Web Apps,” Rosoff said. “I don’t see people spending all day in SkyDrive and Web Apps [and] I don’t see where the cloud is better — it’s another option,” he added.

That said, some observers have pointed out at least one shortfall in the difference between the vision and the reality of Office Web Apps.

The Office Web Apps are not yet integrated with other cloud services from Microsoft, particularly Hotmail. A user can create a document and store it in Live SkyDrive and send other users a notice that it’s there to be downloaded or accessed using Web Apps. However, users cannot yet send a Web Apps file as a Hotmail attachment; Microsoft said adding such capability is in the works.

“When the Office Web Apps are available via Hotmail, customers will be able to see high-quality previews of Microsoft Office Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents right in their inbox using the free Microsoft Office Web Apps. Customers can even view PowerPoint slideshows they receive in their browser with animations and transitions,” a Microsoft spokesperson told

As to a date when that integration will debut, though, the company is still hedging its bets.

“Microsoft will have more to share about when you will be able to send via Hotmail in the coming weeks but we cannot confirm that it will be on the 15th,” the spokesperson added.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

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