Microsoft’s Web-based Office goes live

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Officially joining the browser-based productivity game, Microsoft late Monday released the browser-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.

The Office Web Apps, as the programs are dubbed, are slimmed down versions of the desktop counterparts, allowing for document viewing, sharing, and lightweight editing. Consumers get free access to the tools, along with 25GB of storage as part of Windows Live, while businesses can also host their own version of the Web Apps using the latest version of Sharepoint. The main catch is that using the browser-based versions require an active Internet connection.

“We’ll have more to share next week when Office 2010 is released to consumers, including how Office 2010+SkyDrive+Office Web Apps give you the best productivity experience across the PC, phone, and browser,” Microsoft’s Jason Moore said in a blog post. “In the meantime, if you live in the US, UK, Canada, or Ireland, you can head over to Office.live.com today to start viewing and editing Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote documents right in your web browser-and share them with your friends.”

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Actually, people outside those regions can also use the Web apps, by clicking here, although it may not be in their preferred language. The launch of the Office Web Apps comes as Google has been making the case that businesses should just skip this version of Office, and add Google Docs in addition to their old version of Office.

Microsoft’s Web apps are designed to work on Macs, Windows PCs, and Linux-based computers using Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Safari (though Google’s Chrome and other browsers may work as well). The programs have been available in a limited technology preview since last year. The free consumer versions are designed to be ad-supported, though Microsoft has said that for the foreseeable future it expects to show ads that encourage people to buy the full version of Office.

Microsoft has also built the Web apps into a new version of Hotmail and created a labs effort called Docs.com that allows the sharing of Office documents over Facebook. Meanwhile, the desktop versions of Office went on sale to businesses last month and are due to hit retail shelves next week.

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