Microsoft Workspace graduates from beta

Users can now access and share Office documents online.

Microsoft is set to announce general availability of the free online component of Office on Tuesday.

Microsoft Office Live Workspace lets users access and share Office documents online. It first became available in December when Microsoft opened a limited beta version of the service.

With the broad availability of Workspace, Microsoft has also rolled out some updates, which became available late last week. Workspace now features an activity panel that shows users a stream of activity on the page, including noting files that have been added or deleted.

Users are now able to upload multiple files at a time. The update also includes a bit of "polish" on the sharing experience, said Eric Gilmore, a senior product manager at Microsoft.

For now Workspace is only available in the English languages, but additional languages will be supported in the future, he said. Despite competition from Google's Docs and Spreadsheets online offering, Microsoft has ambitious goals for how many people might use Workspace, as well as the potential for businesses to use the online service.

According to research from Compete, as of October last year, Google Docs and Spreadsheets had an average of just over 1.4 million unique visits per month.

"We think 1.4 million is very small," Gilmore said. Microsoft hopes that most Office users will also use Workspace, meaning it will be used by many millions of people. Workspace is one iteration of Microsoft's software-plus-services strategy, which aims to combine its software products with online services.

Workspace is designed for professionals and consumers who want to access documents remotely or collaborate with multiple people. It is a simpler version of SharePoint, the managed software platform from Microsoft for enterprises, but the two could converge in the future.

For example, if enterprises ask for the capability, Microsoft could enable workers to share SharePoint sites within Workspace, Gilmore said. If that happened, Microsoft could also alleviate enterprise security concerns by bringing together the Active Directory authentication and authorization tool used in SharePoint with its Live ID online services sign-on process. SharePoint uses Active Directory and Workspace uses Live ID.

"The fundamental pieces are in place that, over time, could bridge the gap between Active Directory and Windows Live ID," Gilmore said.

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