Microsoft’s Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote will have a new home in the cloud, the company announced at the Microsoft Developers Conference in Los Angeles this morning, adding the Office suite to the cadre of software and services it has said it will provide as it develops its Windows Azure cloud-based platform. The browser-based versions of the apps will run on Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari, as well as on Windows Mobile devices. It will go into a tech preview for developers later this year, the company said.
Given that Microsoft (s MSFT) isn’t talking about when the suite might be released, why the announcement today? The company says it’s because the Office apps are part of its larger shift to the cloud announced with Azure. But it’s also coming relatively late to the game and has let efforts in the productivity space by others go by unchallenged.
In a pre-announcement briefing Monday, Microsoft senior director of Information Worker Group Communications Janice Kapner said Google’s (s GOOG) desktop apps weren’t a serious threat to Office and denied that its browser-based Office suite is a response to other online productivity software like Google Docs, which has a relatively small market share. But the advance announcement suggests the company wants to staunch even the smallest flow of current and potential future customers to alternative products.
Microsoft still needs to find ways to monetize the shift to a multi-device, increasingly web-based world, and a nimble web-based Office suite would be a good step in that direction. That might prevent users shifting loyalties to potential competitors like Google. The new suite will, the company says, allow users to move seamlessly between the desktop and the cloud versions of the Office software. That hybrid web-desktop mode is something Microsoft says underscores the Windows Azure cloud platform it announced Monday.
Microsoft was tight-lipped about pricing but said the suite will be a “lightweight” version of its client-based cousin and will be offered as a package rather than siloed and sold individually.