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Microsoft announces new Office Web applications as part of its next version of Office

Vendor also unveils Windows Live Framework to better integrate the Web, phone and PC together

Los Angeles –Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) this week launched its new Windows Live Framework and new Office Web applications as part of its next version of Office, codenamed Office 14, to bridge end-user experiences with the Web, phone and PC.

In his keynote at the company’s Professional Developers Conference, Ray Ozzie, Microsoft’s chief software architect, said that the Web, phone and PC have all become part of an individual’s daily personal computing experience. The PC, he said, is adapting to now become more relevant so that it works and centres around the Web.

“The PC is an unparalleled high performance, personal information management device,” he said. “Through the power of the Web, the Internet has become our common meeting place to connect, communicate, transact and share. When the PC, phone and Web are bridged together, they’re far more valuable to users than when they’re apart.”

As part of Microsoft’s new Windows Azure platform and its Azure Services offerings, both of which were announced this week, Microsoft also unveiled its Live Framework. David Treadwell, corporate vice-president of Live Platform Services at Microsoft, said Live Framework is a way for developers and customers to access its Live Services.

“Live Services is part of the Azure platform that works to connect people, devices and applications,” Treadwell said. “Users have data in lots of different places and it’s often difficult to integrate all of (those) different devices together.”

This was why, he said, Microsoft introduced its Live Mesh software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform offering, as part of Live Services, six months ago. With Live Mesh, users are able to connect their PCs and other devices with each other via the Internet. Developers also have the opportunity to create, build and work with applications that integrate either on a local client, or in the cloud.

Microsoft’s Live Framework utilizes a live operating environment and programming model that provides users with a way to get at Live Services. It’s a consistent, open and interoperable framework that supports the PC, phone and the Web, Treadwell said.

The company also used the conference to announce new Web applications for Office 14. Customers have very different work styles, said Takeshi Numoto, general manager for Microsoft Office at Microsoft. Because of this, users want to be able to collaborate with each other and with their information without boundaries and in a seamless manner, he continued.

Office Web applications are lightweight versions of Microsoft Office Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint and are part of Office 14, he said. These Web applications can be accessed by using standard Web browsers including Internet Explorer, Safari and Firefox. By working with these applications through the Web, users can access, create, edit and share Office documents through various devices such as the PC or on a mobile device.

“Office is all about defining the future of productivity and that means embracing how people work,” Numoto said. “These new offerings are all about allowing customers to achieve collaboration capabilities that are bridged together with the help of the PC, phone and the Web.”

Mike Jensen, senior technical specialist at Vancouver-based Habañero Consulting Group, a Microsoft partner, said he believes that once Office 14 is released, there will be lots of choice for the company’s customers in how they access their documents. Ho Yan Leung, Habañero’s technical specialist, added that he expects a seamless transition for those customers looking to upgrade to the new Office.

“A big plus is consistency from using one platform to another because the familiarity is already there,” Leung said. “For businesses, they can get into the game that much easier and faster because (they) don’t have to invest in IT staff because Office is already there working for you.”

Microsoft will be offering an invite-only technical preview of Office Web applications later this year, Numoto said. For the broader consumer base, Office Web applications will be available through Office Live or through a subscription-based offering. Businesses can access the offering as a hosted subscription, or through their existing license agreements, he adds. Numoto said the company isn’t ready to discuss release dates, pricing or packaging offers for Office Web applications as of yet. He also said no specific date has been set yet for Office 14’s general release to the general public.

“We think Office for Web applications will be a complimentary service to anyone who uses office today,” he said. “We also think it will be an opportunity for us to reach customers who are not yet using Office. For business customers, it enriches the ability to share and reach documents on multiple devices.”

Ozzie says the creation of Office Web applications comes out of Microsoft’s vision for a seamless, connected idea of achieving productivity to “create an office experience without boundaries and walls.”