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Microsoft unveils 'lightweight' Office for Web

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PDC Microsoft has finally announced a version of its Office productivity applications for the web with the next full edition of its suite.

The company said it's planning web applications for Office, a "lightweight" package of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote applications that'll "be compatible with familiar web browsers", including Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari.

A "private technical preview" is due later this year, before the tools are rolled into the next version of Office. In the meantime, Microsoft has asked potential beta customers to visit its Office Live site here for updates and information.

Web applications for Office is understood to allow collaboration and annotation of documents, but it won't be a replacement for the full money-spinner desktop package. Instead, users will be able to create, annotate and share documents.

The suite will be available to users of Microsoft's Office Live service through a hosted subscription or volume license. Finally, it seems Microsoft has reconciled it's crisis of having an online Office brand that lacked any Office apps.

When Office Live originally launched, there was speculation this would be a hosted version of Microsoft's suite. Eventually, it turned out to be a bundle of web space hosting, email, document management and collaboration.

Much remains unclear about web applications for Office and how it will fit as a business apps package. For example, how lightweight will this package really be? Will there be integration with desktop editions of the Office suite? Or servers like SQL Server that hook into the current desktop editions of applications such as Excel? How about storage and back up to Microsoft's Azure Services Platform via SQL Services.

Regardless, Silicon Valley will twitter this as potential competition to Google’s Docs and Spreadsheets - and suites like ZoHo.

Underscoring this is the fact that business customers have been turning to the competition, combining Google Docs & Spreadsheets and Salesforce.com, for combined productivity documents and business applications. ®

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