Microsoft will announce a free, online cloud computing version of Office 2010 on Wednesday. Microsoft Office, which includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, once dominated the market. However, Office has been losing ground to a number of competitors, all of which include one word: FREE.
Microsoft Office's biggest competitor has been Google Docs, followed by Zoho Docs, Open Office, and a host of other free programs. Oracle recently announced Oracle Cloud Office, a web-based office productivity suite that is not yet available to the public but appears to be an excellent product.
NOTE: This article is being written in NeoOffice, a free word processing program based on OpenOffice.
The free Google Docs and Zoho Docs have the advantage of being Web-based applications that will run from any computer connected to the Internet. Documents are also more easily shared on Google Docs and on Zoho Docs than on traditional office productivity programs, such as Microsoft Office.
The free software has taken business away from Microsoft amongst home users, who tend to be more price-sensitive. However, the free products probably will never cut into sales in the business world as business users have more need of word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations.
The new free version of Microsoft Office, called Office Web Apps, will contain advertising. The new, free service will contain stripped-down, online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, not the full-featured commercial versions. The stripped-down, online versions will probably be more than powerful enough for most home users.
Microsoft Office Web Apps will allow users to create, edit and share Office docs with people who have Office and with those who don't. Two people could simultaneously edit the same spreadsheet, Word document, or PowerPoint presentation from different locations through a PC, the Web, or a Windows Mobile phone.
Microsoft estimates 500 million people use Office, many of them still chugging away on Office 2003 or even older versions. Unlike other software products, releasing newer copies of Microsoft Office has not resulted in tens of thousands of users rushing out to purchase the latest versions. Customer surveys usually show that most users have no plans to ever upgrade.
The public version of Google Docs is free to individuals, and Google sells the software to businesses for $50 per user each year in a suite called Google Apps. The paid version has more security, privacy controls, and customer support, and it runs on a network with guaranteed service levels. Google says that, combined, more than 25 million people are using the free and paid versions.
Microsoft Office Web Apps will offer more features and what the company claims is a better visual presentation than its competitors. But the free Office Web Apps will not have all the features of Office 2010, which is being priced from $119 to $499, depending on the version.
This should be interesting to watch: Microsoft's new, free software versus the entrenched free software from other vendors. Microsoft Office Web Apps should be available on Wednesday, May 12.