Microsoft plans office apps online

Microsoft plans to make Office productivity applications available over the Web, but demand for the service among US corporate users appears limitedMicrosoft's announcement that it will host its Office suite of applications on the Web follows an announcement by Sun Microsystems that it will provide office applications from Star Division, which it plans to acquire. But analyst Amy Wohl of Wohl Associates, said Microsoft has been pondering making Office available on the Web for months. It isn't simply trying to confuse the market with its announcement, she said.

Wohl said over the past several months she has spoken with application service providers, which she didn't name, that claimed to have negotiated with Microsoft to host Office applications online. Microsoft, meanwhile, has let hints about application hosting trickle out. But it had never been so explicit about the possibility that it would host office applications itself, she said.

Microsoft already operates a major application hosting service with its 40-million-member Hotmail e-mail service.

Among the most likely corporate users to demand Office over the Web would be those who are upgrading hardware and may not want to manage the software in-house anymore, Wohl said. But there will always be a large segment of users who want to keep Office on their PCs, she said.

However, the exposure of office applications to Web browsers could be of interest to users of platforms such as Linux, where Microsoft Office doesn't run. Wohl said because Linux will likely gain acceptance regardless of whether Microsoft offers applications that run on it, Microsoft might as well gain revenue by offering Office to users.

Microsoft executives said they plan to narrow the focus of the company's myriad online ventures so it can focus on driving more traffic to Web access and content services. The company's sites are the third most heavily visited on the Web, said Microsoft president Steve Ballmer.

"We've got a lot of good momentum, but we're not number one," he said.

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