Microsoft Corp. has vanquished most competitors to its Office suite of software. But a new version of the popular program will be challenged by free or low-cost Web-based alternatives from Google Inc., which some businesses are adopting.

Microsoft has added Web-friendly features to Office 2010, which will become available to businesses starting in May, that allow people to run over the Internet Word, Excel and other applications through Web browsers and to edit documents simultaneously with other users. The company will also offer a free, online version of Office 2010 that has advertising.

The moves are Microsoft’s most serious effort yet to refashion one of its mightiest cash cows for the era of ‘cloud computing,’ a Google-backed trend in which applications are run in remote data centers and often rented to customers rather than purchased and installed on customers’ personal computers.

Google’s online Apps, which perform similar tasks to Office, have gathered steam in recent years by reducing costs and administrative hassles. Google also competes with behind-the-scenes software in the Office family for running email systems and company Web sites, called Exchange and SharePoint.

With the free version of Office 2010, Microsoft is making a risky bet that customers will pay for a version that omits advertising and gives businesses greater control over how documents are managed, often a key factor for compliance with securities and privacy regulations.

The Redmond, Wash., giant can ill afford to let Office sales slip as it seeks to recover from a tech-spending slowdown. Its business division, which gets more than 90% of its sales from Office products, accounted for nearly 60% of the company’s operating income in its last fiscal year, which ended June 30.

For now, Microsoft seems to be staring down the Google threat, especially with large business customers. Riding on the tailwind from sales of Windows 7, a new version of its flagship operating system, Microsoft recently beat Google with Office-related business deals at General Motors Corp. and Starbucks Coffee Co.

‘When we’re there competing, we win,’ said Stephen Elop, president of the Microsoft division that includes Office.

Mr. Elop recently helped woo GM to use SharePoint software to run GM’s internal Web site, a deal for which Google was also being considered.

Kirk Gutmann, chief technology and strategy officer for GM’s information-technology group, said the auto maker also plans to deploy Office 2010. ‘The Microsoft products are very, very rich,’ Mr. Gutmann said, adding that he likes Office 2010 because of its new Web and collaboration features. He declined to say how much GM paid.

A person familiar with Google’s position said the Internet company wasn’t in serious contention for GM’s business. In some cases, this person added, businesses appear to use the specter of Google to negotiate discounts with Microsoft. ‘The majority of companies that give serious consideration to Google end up choosing us,’ a Google spokesman said.

Google said there are about 25 million total users of Google Apps. Research firm Gartner Inc. estimates there are only about one million paying customers for Google Apps; the rest download a free version that has advertising. Google declined to comment on Gartner’s estimate.

Google has had the most success getting businesses to use its Gmail service to host their corporate email systems, with that toehold potentially leading to further deals.

Part of Google Apps’ appeal is its cheap and simple-to-understand price: $50 per user a year. Customers also don’t have to install or administer Google Apps, which Google runs in its data centers.

Business versions of Office typically sell for several hundreds of dollars, while a popular consumer version runs around $119. Microsoft hasn’t disclosed what it will charge businesses that choose the Web version of Office 2010 rather than purchase a copy to install on PCs.

‘Of all the other threats [Microsoft has] faced over the years, this is the one to worry about, not just because it’s from Google but because it espouses a whole new way of doing things,’ said David Smith, an analyst at Gartner.

Nick Wingfield

微软Office应战谷歌免费工具

微软公司(Microsoft Corp.)已经击败了其Office系列办公软件的大多数竞争者。但这一流行程序的新版本可能会受到谷歌公司(Google Inc.)办公软件的挑战。一些公司正在采用谷歌公司提供的基于网络的、免费或低价的办公软件。

微软已在Office 2010中增加了网络友好功能,允许人们使用网络浏览器通过互联网运行Word、Excel及其它应用程序,并可与其它用户同时编辑文档。Office 2010企业版将自今年5月起开始上市。微软还将提供带有广告的免费、在线版的Office 2010。

Microsoft
负责Office等产品销售的微软商业部总裁艾洛普在去年的一个公司会议上
上述举动是微软目前为止对其最大的摇钱树进行改造、使之适应“云计算”时代的最重要的努力。“云计算”是一个由谷歌支持的趋势,应用程序在远程的数据中心中运行且通常由客户租用,而不是由客户购买并安装在自己的个人电脑中。

谷歌的在线应用程序能完成与Office类似的任务,且由于它能够降低客户的成本并减少管理方面的麻烦,近几年已经积聚了自己的力量。谷歌还针对Office家族中的Exchange和SharePoint两款用于运行邮件系统和公司网站的后台软件展开竞争。

微软推出Office 2010免费版是冒险押注客户将会为没有广告且在文档管理方面有更大控制权的软件付费。文档管理通常是公司符合安全与保密规定的关键因素。

在微软试图从技术支出下降的影响中恢复之时,这个位于华盛顿州的软件巨头承担不起Office销售下滑的风险。截至去年6月30日的上一财年中,微软近60%的运营收入来自于商业部门,而商业部门90%以上的销售来自于Office系列产品。

目前,微软看来还未把谷歌的威胁放在心上,特别是它拥有巨大的商业客户基础。搭乘其新版旗舰操作系统Windows 7的销售东风,微软近期在与Office相关的业务交易中击败了谷歌,赢得了通用汽车公司(General Motors Corp.)和星巴克咖啡公司(Starbucks Coffee Co.)的合同。

负责Office等产品销售的微软商业部总裁艾洛普(Stephen Elop)说,只要是微软参与的竞争,微软就会赢。

艾洛普近期帮助微软说服通用汽车公司使用SharePoint软件运行通用汽车的内部网站。谷歌也曾是通用汽车考虑的公司之一。

通用汽车公司信息技术部门首席技术与策略长古特曼(Kirk Gutmann)说,通用汽车公司也计划使用Office 2010。他说微软的产品非常非常丰富,并称他喜欢Office 2010是因为它具有新的网络和协同功能。他拒绝透露通用汽车公司为此支付的价格。

据知情人士透露,谷歌并未认真争取通用汽车这单生意。他说,一些公司有时候显然利用谷歌公司作为筹码与微软谈判折扣事宜。谷歌公司发言人说,大多数认真考虑过谷歌的公司最终选择了谷歌。

谷歌称谷歌应用程序约有2500万用户。研究公司Gartner Inc.估计谷歌应用程序仅有100万付费用户,其余用户均下载使用带有广告的版本。谷歌拒绝对Gartner的估计发表评论。

谷歌最成功之处在于让许多公司利用其Gmail服务支撑各自的企业邮件系统。这个小小的立足之处可能会为其带来进一步的交易。

谷歌应用程序的吸引力在一定程度上是由于它价格便宜且便于理解:每用户每年50美元。客户还无须安装或管理谷歌应用程序,谷歌在自己的数据中心运行这些程序。

Office企业版一般售价高达数百美元,而受欢迎的家庭版售价约119美元。对于不选择购买并在电脑之上安装拷贝而是选择网络版Office 2010的公司,微软并未披露收费标准。

Gartner的分析师史密斯(David Smith)说,在微软多年来面临的所有威胁中,它需要为这个感到担心,并不只是因为它来自于谷歌,而是因为它带来了全新的行为方式。

Nick Wingfield

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