UPDATED: Microsoft announces new wave of web-based apps

Reacting to Google's growing efforts in the office software-as-a-service (Saas) market, Microsoft has announced a beta release of its latest Office Live online services, as well as Microsoft Online applications aimed at larger companies.

Microsoft has unveiled its first effort to provide software via the web to its enterprise customers in its clearest move yet to repel the threat of Google's web-based office suite.

Office Live Workplace, which will initially be available as beta service, will allow its users to access and manipulate more than 1,000 of their own documents from anywhere via a web browser. Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations will be available through your own personal workspace whether you're at home, at work or on the go.

It is available for free with a Windows Live ID. A pre-registration list has been started through Microsoft's website.

"These documents will go wherever people go when they're away from their usual desktop" said Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's Business Division. "People will be able to work on documents from any Microsoft Office-equipped computer with an internet connection."

The announcement comes on the heels of Google's latest release of Google Apps a suite of online applications such as word processing, spreadsheets and presentation software, all programmes eerily similar to Microsoft's bread-and-butter Office applications.

The files uploaded to a user's personal workplace will also be available for others to view and critique. An Office Live customer can invite others to their workplace with a simple active email address, and can determine whether that person can view, comment or even edit documents. Even those without a desktop version of Office can join in, although they're unable to edit any work.

"This will help people avoid the pain of trying to find the latest version of a document, or having to pull together multiple versions of documents. They can also easily post files to their dedicated password-protected online workspace directly from the Office application in which they're working" added Raikes.

Microsoft also unveiled new hosted services based on Exchange, SharePoint and Office Communications Server for its bigger enterprise customers.

The products, according to Microsoft, will work the same as the existing boxed offerings but the software will be hosted by Microsoft itself, but without IT administrators ceding control.

* In other news, Microsoft has also announced an update for its Live Search platform, intended to improve the core search technology and vertical search functionality. The search engine now boasts an index size that has quadrupled, as well as incorporating more rich data to improve relevancy results across the board.

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