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Microsoft Offers Early Customer Trials Of Office Web Apps

Browser-based versions of Office applications mark Microsoft's effort to compete with Google Apps and cloud computing alternatives

Microsoft Office

Starting today a limited number of invitation-only consumers will have access to the lightweight applications that are designed to compete with Google Apps and online cloud computing software from other vendors. The invite-only participants will have access to the applications through Microsoft's Windows Live SkyDrive service.

Microsoft formally debuted Office Web Apps in July at the vendor's Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans. At the time Microsoft said the software would enter the technical preview stage in September, a broader public beta phase later this year, and general availability sometime in the first half of 2010.

"The early technical preview program is designed to collect additional customer feedback prior to the broad release of the service. After this technical preview milestone, which is focused on consumers, we'll continue to update the Office Web Apps, leading up to the broadly available beta and the official launch next year, and frequently update the service based on new user feedback after that," said Michael Schultz, director of marketing for Microsoft Office Services, in a Q&A posted Thursday on Microsoft's Web site.

Microsoft said consumers could sign up for the beta version of Office Web Apps at microsoft.com/Office 2010.

Not included in the technical preview is OneNote Web App, which will be available at a later date, according to Microsoft. Later versions of the software will be more tightly integrated with Microsoft Office 2010 desktop software, the company also said.

Once generally available next year, Office Web Apps will be offered three ways: to Windows Live subscribers through Windows Live SkyDrive, to Office 2010 volume licensing business customers hosted with SharePoint Server and through Microsoft Online Services.

Microsoft intends to make Office Web Apps available for PCs and Macs and will support Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari browsers.

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