Microsoft to soon sell full range of Web software

Microsoft Corp will soon launch a full range of online versions of its software products, including the Office suite, and expects the weak economy to accelerate growth of the nascent Web-based software market, a senior executive said on Monday.

Stephen Elop, president of Microsoft's business division, is leading the company's entry into the "software as a service" market, which offers programs that are hosted online instead of downloaded to computer hard drives. By using the Web to host software like Microsoft Office, as well as Exchange e-mail and SharePoint collaborative software, Microsoft customers do not need to spend as much money on equipment and maintenance of computer servers.

Elop said the company would soon announce a wide range of services, including free versions supported by advertising.

Microsoft's foray into online software services comes amid competition from Google Inc, whose Google Apps provide free Web services including calendar, collaboration, email and messaging software.

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