Web-based Office extension goes to testing

Microsoft is expanding a beta test program for Office Live Workspace, the company's answer to free services from Google and others.

Microsoft's answer to Google and other competitors in the online application market entered widespread beta testing on Tuesday.

Office Live Workspace, a Web-based extension to Office that introduces online document sharing and storage, has been in a limited, private beta test since last October.

The free service, set to debut later this year, is aimed at Google's Documents and Spreadsheets, among other services, that have emerged as popular alternatives to Office.

While Office still holds a commanding lead in the productivity application market, that has not stopped Google, IBM, Adobe and others from launching new services. For many users, those services might be preferable to Office's large installation footprint and expense.

One caveat with Office Live Workspace: it does not allow users to edit documents online, as Google's service does. Microsoft executives haven't ruled out the possibility of online editing in the future.

For now, users will still need a copy of Office to edit documents, although they can use Office Live Workspace to view and comment on documents within a browser window, create what Microsoft terms "simple" Web lists and notes, and of course share documents.

Users can sign up for the service starting today.

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