Microsoft working on Internet-based Office

Though the company denies reports that it will have something to announce next week at Internet World in New York, a representative for Microsoft Corporation confirmed this week that an Internet-based version of Office is forthcoming. No timetable has been set, let alone any specifics of the new suite, which is expected to compete head-to-head with the Web-centric version of Sun Microsystem's StarOffice suite.

"We're looking at a couple of options, including working with partners or making it available direct from Microsoft," says Lisa Gurry, a product manager for Microsoft Office. "We're not discussing any pricing models or any pricing specifics yet."

The cynical among us might consider this statement to be the type of "vaporware" announcement that Microsoft was criticized for during its antitrust trial. If that's the case, it's no guiltier than Sun, which basically pre-announced its own Internet-based office suite without actually having a product to ship.

But Microsoft has taken a decidedly defensive posture in the past few weeks, with sweeping general statements about a Web-based future. At the same time, the company is doing what it can to position Windows as the ultimate client and server for the Internet. The idea of a Web-based distribution model isn't far-fetched, given the massive Web browser downloads that most users now take for granted. But Microsoft Office is a massive pig of a program, lacking the true componentization needed to distribute it over the Web. The company promises that the next version of the suite--code-named "Office 10"--will be more componentized

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