Oracle takes on Microsoft, Google with Cloud Office

But pricing for Oracle's online productivity suite remains unknown

Oracle on Wednesday announced Cloud Office 1.0, a Web-based productivity suite that is set to give online applications from Microsoft and Google a fresh dose of competition.

Cloud Office is integrated with the on-premises Oracle Open Office, of which version 3.3 was also announced Wednesday.

Like Open Office, Cloud Office is based on ODF (Open Document Format). It provides a set of spreadsheet, text and presentation applications and is compatible with Microsoft Office, according to Oracle.

Customers can use Cloud Office to collaborate on documents over the Web as well as access them on mobile devices, Oracle said. Information on supported mobile devices wasn't immediately available.

Cloud Office stands ready for "enterprise and carrier-grade deployment" thanks to its "Web-scale" SaaS (software as a service) architecture, but is available in on-premises form as well, Oracle said.

It will be sold to business users as Cloud Office Professional Edition. Telcos and ISPs can offer their customers Cloud Office in Home, Standard and Professional Editions, according to an Oracle presentation.

A perpetual license for Professional Edition costs US$90, plus 22 percent annual maintenance fees. Cloud Office Standard Edition will cost $40 per user when sold through a telco or ISP, with support acquired through the provider. Home Edition is not currently available, according to an Oracle spokeswoman.

Cloud Office is also available via subscription at $40 per user per year for Professional Edition and $20 per user per year for Standard Edition, the spokeswoman said.

Cloud Office's cost could be key to its success against incumbent offerings like Google Apps for Business, which costs US$50 per user per year.

Meanwhile, new features in Open Office 3.3 include plug-ins for Oracle's BI (business intelligence), E-Business Suite ERP (enterprise resource planning) software, and Microsoft SharePoint.

While Oracle has a long way to go in catching up to competing office suites, it is hoping to close the gap by positioning its products as more flexible and open alternatives.

Open Office 3.3 Standard Edition costs US$49.95 per user and is meant for companies with one to 99 employees. The Enterprise Edition, which includes many more tools, connectors and supported platforms, costs $90 per user with a minimum of 100 users, although volume pricing is available.

But interoperability with Office comes at an additional price. Earlier this year, Oracle imposed a $90 per user fee on an ODF plug-in that enables the sharing of files between Open Office and Microsoft Office. The plug-in had been available at no charge under Sun's ownership.

Still, Oracle maintains customers can reduce their office productivity license costs by up to a factor of five by using Open Office.

Oracle has faced scrutiny this year from backers of OpenOffice.org, the open-source version of Open Office, with some fearing the company would stop supporting the effort.

A number of OpenOffice.org developers recently formed an offshoot project, LibreOffice. Oracle later publicly reaffirmed its commitment to OpenOffice.org.

Oracle gave no indications in Wednesday's announcement that Cloud Office will also be released as open source.

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