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Cash cow Microsoft Office in jeopardy?

It’s got to be tough to be Microsoft with open source at your heels and startups going after your cash cow, Office. Of course, $1B going to the bottom line every quarter probably eases the sting.

Is their Microsoft Office franchise in jeopardy?

First HalfBrain builds a “smart net app” in 1999 that emulates the spreadsheet Excel and later the presentation package Powerpoint (HalfBrain was eventually sold to AlphaBlocks which was sold to IBM). Then some of that crew form OddPost building a web-based email application that emulates Microsoft Outlook (and gets acquired by Yahoo).

Now a smart team of folks have knocked off Word at the startup “Writely.” Currently in beta, it still is pretty awesome…especially to be able to create permissions, email those with whom you want to have access, and collaborate on a document.

Writely’s “Questions” FAQ succinctly presents their value proposition:

What does Writely do?
Writely allows you to edit documents online with whomever you choose, and then publish them online — also for whomever you choose.

How is it different than a wiki?
For one thing, it has permissions, so that you can invite only you choose to edit or view your documents. For another, it’s easy to use. ;)

Why should I try it?
Because it’s new and cool! Seriously, though, if you need any of the features mentioned below, then this could be the tool you’ve been looking for.

What can I do with it?
You can:

  • Upload Word documents, HTML or text (or create documents from scratch).
  • Use our simple WSIWYG editor to format your documents.
  • Edit documents online with whomever you choose.
  • View your documents’ complete revision history and roll back to any version.
  • Publish documents online to the world, or to just who you choose.
  • Download documents to your desktop as Word, HTML or zip.

Do you offer a version I can put on my own server?
We’re working on it. If you’d like to participate in our beta program, click here to tell us.

Security and sensitive data controls will be the hurdle over which all web enabled applications must vault to break in to the enterprise — so that last question is key. But is that even the target market? Or are the tens of millions of daily Office users — tired of emailing around documents and trying to maintain some semblance of version control — the market? Lawyers from two different companies going back-n-forth over document iterations and redlining? Inside salespeople tweaking proposals collaboratively with the customer? Project managers working with their outsourced group in India on joint plan development? Teachers that want to post curricula or schedules with blank placeholders for parent involvement.

The more I ponder all the uses, the more enthused that I become that these Writely guys have hit a hot button. It will remain to be seen if some firm, willing to compete headon with Microsoft, will buy them and assemble an online competitive offering to Office.