Microsoft climbs aboard the internet software bandwagon

Microsoft’s next operating system, Windows 7, is being geared for netbooks as well as larger computers. And as part of its Office 2010 suite, which is expected to be available in the first half of 2010, Microsoft will offer web-based versions of its Office suite of programs free of charge to consumers–including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and a note-taking program.

Office web applications will be available through Microsoft’s Windows Live service. Microsoft hopes to make money by using the free software to lead users to its ad-supported web sites, such as Bing, the revamped search engine it launched last month.

For businesses, Microsoft will host one internet version of Office from its own data centers, and it will charge companies a subscription fee that it has not yet announced. Companies with premium service contracts will have the option of running a second web-based version of Office from their own data centers at no extra cost. It was unclear as of press time whether schools would be charged for the same arrangement.

Google already offers web-based versions of its office productivity software free of charge to educators, including the Google Docs word processor. But having online access to familiar Office programs could be appealing to educators who have not had the time or the inclination to try other software.

What’s more, giving students Microsoft Office functionality on devices that normally could not run full versions of Office could pay off in a big way.

Currently, the Microsoft Live@edu program gives K-12 schools and higher-education institutions a set of free hosted and co-branded collaboration and communication tools. Schools have access to Windows Live Hotmail, a hosted eMail service, and Office Live Workspace, an online space to collaborate on Microsoft Office documents.

Similarly, Google Apps for Education is free for schools and universities. The service includes Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Sites, Google Docs, and Google Video, all using a school’s own domain. In addition, Google for Educators contains classroom activities and teacher guides for using a dozen Google applications in the curriculum. The web site links to all these applications from a single location.

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