Chinese rival preempts Office XP launch

While the market for desktop productivity applications in much of the world is dominated by Microsoft Corp.'s Office application suite, one mainland Chinese company is not willing to back down in its local market. Beijing-based Kingsoft Corp. announced on Wednesday the introduction of its WPS Office suite of desktop applications, just one month before Microsoft's planned launch of Office XP in mainland China.

Kingsoft has sought to compete aggressively with Microsoft in the past, at one point rallying consumers to purchase its software to oppose Microsoft hegemony in China. Nevertheless, Kingsoft has not been seen as a major competitor of Microsoft.

That's something that Kingsoft would clearly like to see change. Besides offering a range of features that are comparable with Microsoft Office, pricing appears to be a key aspect of Kingsoft's strategy to push WPS Office sales. The corporate version of WPS Office is priced at 1,298 renminbi (US$157) for a single user or 2,980 renminbi for five users, according to information posted on the company's Web sites. The company is offering upgrades to existing WPS users for 198 renminbi. Kingsoft is also planning to release a student edition of WPS Office which will be priced at 50 renminbi, according to reports carried in the local Chinese press.

In addition, Kingsoft is offering discounts on WPS Office until May 25, when the 1,298 renminbi retail price will come into effect, and is looking to OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to help boost sales, the company said on its Web site.

The pricing for WPS Office is significantly lower than the cost of the corporate edition of Microsoft Office 2000, which retails for between 4,300 renminbi and 5,300 renminbi, according to prices quoted by Beijing-based online retailer eNet Co. Ltd. on Friday. The professional edition of Office XP, which will be released in the U.S. on May 31, is priced at $579 with an upgrade version offered for $329 on Microsoft's U.S. Web site.

WPS Office matches many of the applications contained in Microsoft Office with comparable offerings, including a word processor, spreadsheet, e-mail client, presentation software, a business graphics application, and a program for making Web sites.