Microsoft readying free online Google Apps challenger, Albany

According to a number of reputable online websites, software firm Microsoft is readying a free, online version of MS Office Home and Students in response to the growing threat that Google Apps is becoming.

Codenamed Albany, it will target consumers rather than businesses - which would still remain the target of Microsoft's cash cow, the Office business suite - and would bring together Windows Live Onecare, Office LiveWorkspace and Office Home and Student Edition.

A screenshot displayed on ZDnet and coming from one user testing the beta version reads “ValueBox brings together three great Microsoft products and services to meet common needs of home PC users.”

Software as a service versions of Microsoft Office already exist and Fasthosts did offer a £15 version for businesses in February, dropping down to a fiver for educational users.

Many manufacturers, notably Dell, already include Microsoft Works as the default Office suite on their computers and while an online Office Home and Student 2007 version would only include Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, it could be a tricky proposal especially if businesses chose to adopt Albany.

Infoworld reckons that a shrink wrapped, installable version could also be available, something that Google Apps does not currently offer.