The decision by the Redmond, Washington-based software giant means it will now be easier for Office users to read, edit, and publish documents on their company's intranet or Web site, the company said.
In the next version, Office will be redesigned to support both HTML and the current binary file format, said Office group product manager Jeffrey Smith. "We want to bring the best of both worlds to the next version."
Office will also incorporate extensible markup language, or XML, into the HTML to preserve the Office-specific formatting in the document. XML will allow users to store underlying information and also manipulate graphics they get from the Internet, the company said.
Microsoft made the decision in recognition of a corporate market where companies have invested $20 billion this year in intranets, or internal Web-based networks, the company said, citing a study from Zona Research.
Smith said that a lot of those become "deadwebs," web sites and intranets whose content has grown stale or fallen into disuse, at a major cost to the companies. "We found that roughly 82 percent of companies we talked to identified this as a problem."
By making HTML a priority, the software will allow Office users to turn their word processor or spreadsheet documents into Web-ready documents, keeping their intranets fresh with data and bypassing the process of submitting data to a Webmaster, a person responsible for transferring the information into HTML code.
"I think it's a great move," said Chris LeTocq, a software analyst with DataQuest. "It shows that Microsoft realizes it has to take care of its [market] base."
Although Microsoft is not revealing the date for the next release of Office, company executives have said the product typically has an 18-month turnover period. Office 97 was launched in January of this year.
Reuters contributed to this story.