Office Web Applications - why pay for enterprise licences?

It comes as no surprise Microsoft is planning to release a browser-based version of Office for its cloud computing service, Azure. When Steve Ballmer visited the UK last month, he mentioned that Microsoft would offer software and services, instead of software as a service.

As it turns out, Microsoft is doing far more than Saas, following in Google’s footsteps, its hosted Office product, Office Web Applications, will be free software supported by advertising revenue, at least according to the Financial Times.

I think this changes the dynamics of desktop software purchasing. We need to assess why we still need to install MS Office, when many tasks can be run from a browser.

The company I work for still provides me with a full copy of MS Office, even though I hardly ever use it.  The print and web production system on Computer Weekly is based on Adobe’s InDesign and InCopy software. I’m happy with whatever basic word editing is available. I have used Hotmail for years, and Gmail; I often use OpenOffice to write articles. Yesterday I used Pocket Word on my XDA Orbit.  Personally it doesn’t matter what word processor I use, so long as it does the basic things: type in words, search & replace, word count and spell check.

So a basic online version of Office will be good enough for me – especially if it’s free. This begs the question of why we need to buy site licenses for MS Office at all. There may be a few people who use its features; but heavy MS Office users probably need a more complete document management product. For everyone else, there’s free software – online Microsoft or Google Apps or OpenOffice.