Microsoft Office applications will be available on demand via the Internet to businesses in the UK under a new program launched today.
As part of a long expected worldwide announcement, Microsoft said BT will offer Office 2000 on tap to UK businesses. A trial service will begin before the end of the year. No pricing details were disclosed.
But while the application service provider (ASP) market is taking off rapidly in the US, things are likely to be slow in the UK for the foreseeable future, the companies admitted.
"It will be difficult to predict what stage it will take off," said Jeremy Gittins, Microsoft productivity group marketing manager. "We're convinced that at some stage over the next few years it will really take off."
"We may not necessarily see huge volumes of users during the pilot, but we hope to get the volume of customers to learn from their experiences," he added.
Angus Fox, strategy manager for BT's Internet and Multimedia division, said he was "quite cautious" and "looking to get hard data from the pilot phase."
Microsoft's Office Online scheme will let customers access applications via a browser or Internet connected interface, without having to buy the shrink-wrapped software. Microsoft defended suggestions that this model would disadvantage its channel partners.
"It gives a tremendous opportunity for many channel partners. The customer service requirements still remain," said Gittins.
In the US, Microsoft will offer Office-on-tap services via its B-Central portal for small businesses. A UK version of the portal is expected in the first quarter of next year.
One benefit the ASP model will bring to Microsoft is to reduce instances of software piracy.
"If we were in a world where all customers could only get access to Microsoft applications online, there would be no piracy. As we move forward, this will be a benefit to users," said Gittins.
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