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Microsoft rolls out its Web Apps — gratis

Screenshot from The Windows Blog
Web Apps is Microsoft’s cloud-based answer to Google Docs.

The on-line version of Microsoft Office — called Microsoft Web Apps — offers lightweight versions of Microsoft Office’s Word, Excel, OneNote, and Powerpoint applications. This is Microsoft’s response to cloud-based Google Docs and Adobe Buzzword. (I notice that Web Apps doesn’t include a program similar to MS-Office’s Access database.)

Google Docs is aimed at Microsoft’s most profitable product, Microsoft Office. The success of Google Docs has placed Microsoft in an awkward position: it must offer an alternative to Google Docs, while not undercutting Microsoft Office sales. Web Apps allows users to view, share, and edit documents on-line, but doesn’t offer full Microsoft Office functionality. The office suite market is changing, and Microsoft’s introduction of Web Apps acknowledges that fact.

Web Apps seems like a great deal: it includes 25 gigabytes of on-line storage (called SkyDrive) for your documents. Microsoft is experienced at providing 90% of what you need for free; to get everything that you want, you must pay. This blog and my website are hosted (for free) on Microsoft’s OfficeLive, and I’m very happy with it; I’ve had to work around some of the limitations, but most of those limitations are manageable. I imagine that Microsoft Web Apps will be similar — not perfect, but good enough for most needs. Read Microsoft’s announcement.

Microcomputer software market history
This battle over office applications is just another example of the truth that no computing market segment is secure. Microsoft taught this lesson back in the early 1980s; now Google is teaching the same lesson to Microsoft. Microsoft started its life in the 1970s by creating computer language interpreters and compilers (MBASIC, ForTran, Pascal, etc.). For years, it seemed that they would stay within that segment, Digital Research would stay within the operating system segment, and Lotus and MicroPro would stay within the applications segment. Then Microsoft, using profits from its language products, released its Multiplan spreadsheet as a competitor to Lotus 1-2-3, MS-Word as a competitor to MicroPro’s WordStar, and MS-DOS as a competitor to Digital Research’s CP/M operating system. Bill Gates had removed the gloves and no segment was ever again sacrosanct. Now Google is playing the same game, using profits from its Adsense and Adwords to do battle on Microsoft’s turf. Knowing how much Bill Gates likes a good fight, I wonder if he’ll remain "retired" on the sidelines?

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