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Adobe buys into web word processing

Flash, bling, wallop

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Adobe has piled into the escalating web-based office applications scrap with the acquisition of Virtual Ubiquity, a Massachusetts-based start-up.

Virtual Ubiquity's flagship is Buzzword, a fancy-looking Flash-based word processor that's got the beating of Google Docs for more sophisticated documents. Its page-by-page format feels more familiar to people used to offline word processing, too, and it describes itself as "the first real word processor for the web".

Currently, Buzzword will export documents to Word format and Word 2003 XML, and Adobe has promised support for Open Office format and its own PDF. The developers only integrated a spellchecker in the last month, however.

The 11-member Virtual Ubiquity team is drawn from Lotus Notes and eRoom, among others. Adobe provided some start-up cash for the firm, so the acquisition is no surprise.

The move is less about taking on Microsoft and Google in the office software business, and more about Adobe's masterplan for web apps. It's hoping the blingy Buzzword interface will provide a launch pad for its AIR runtime environment for Flash applications, which should allow users to edit their documents offline. Google has the same idea to take its application suite offline with Google Gears.

The acquisition should complete by the end of the year, and the financial details are being kept secret. The announcement is here. Virtual Ubiquity has blogged here.

In other news today, Microsoft announced it wants beta testers for its online version of Office. Rather than launch a standalone online service, it's opted for a set-up whereby users will need the offline software to edit, and will only be able to view and share documents via the web. ®

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