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Quietly jumping ahead of schedule, Microsoft launched a series of Office Web applications on SkyDive, a free storage service on Windows Live. Available to everyone in the United States, UK, Canada, and Ireland, the service will be expanded when Office 2010 is released to consumers, and include information on how Office 2010 in conjunction with SkyDrive and Office Web Apps can enhance office productivity.

The announcement, via Microsoft’s Inside Windows Live blog, directs potential users to to begin uploading viewing, creating and editing Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote documents via in a Web. With co-authoring in Excel and OneNote Web Apps, users can work with others at the same time and never be locked out of a document when someone else is working on it. The service also allows users to view Word and PowerPoint documents on most smartphones.

Jason Moore, principal lead program manager for SkyDrive, said the company plans to unveil updated features for Hotmail. “Note that people you share documents with may also need to visit the link above before they can access the documents you share with them,” he wrote. “There are so many new things for you to explore that trying to cover them all in a single blog post would be like trying to gift wrap the Space Needle.”

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As Google has been heavily wooing users with its low-cost Google Apps Premier Edition, its browser-based email, calendaring and spreadsheet suite of programs, Microsoft is seeking to strike the right balance of free apps and licensed versions of its software. Google’s app package costs businesses just $50 per employee, while Microsoft offers licenses to large businesses to use Office 2010 for $349 per employee. Microsoft releases Office 2010 later this month, charging $149 for a boxed copy of Office 2010 Home & Student version, or $279 for the more full-featured Home & Business version.