Microsoft Office turns 21

Released in 1989, Microsoft Office turns 21 this year. Office started as a collection of three applications that quickly became the darling of many businesses, schools, and other organizations. It now is a complete suite of productivity tools available in a number of versions.

There are two interesting things occurring for the Office suite this year. First, an updated version with new bells and whistles will hit the shelves generating the usual interest. Secondly and perhaps much bigger, Microsoft will release a free on-line version of the software suite called Office Web Apps. Yes, I said free.

Maybe it shouldn't be a surprise to see an on-line version of Office. After all, the trend toward cloud computing is growing everywhere. The reasons are many but boil down to two main things - personal computers, relatively speaking, are very powerful which means they can easily handle the chore and Internet access is ubiquitous. Beyond that, many cell phones have matured into powerful handheld computer devices easily able to cloud-compute and the experts say with the success of Apple's iPad tablet computers may be poised to take off this year.

Why would Microsoft offer their flagship product for free? It could be they see the promise in cloud computing and want to step up efforts. Microsoft may also be responding to the pressure generated by Google as it strongly pushes Google Apps Premier Edition, which is a set of Web-based applications offering browser-based e-mail, calendar and a spreadsheet; all direct competitors of Microsoft's Outlook and Excel.

Web Apps will be available through Windows Live. Users can create, save and share work done with a single Windows Live sign-in. Interested? A Beta version of Web Apps is available as I write this.

For information on the beta version go to www.microsoft.com/office/2010/en/office-web-apps/default.aspx.

Ron Poland is a professor in the Computer Information Systems AAS program at Clinton Community College. Poland is certified in computer repair and networking by the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). He is also a Cisco certified network assistant. Questions may be sent to him via e-mail at ron@ronpoland.com.

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