Microsoft Office 2010 heads online to counter Google threat

After Google launched Chrome OS last week, there were dark twitterings about the search giant attempting to steal the thunder from a Microsoft announcement today.  Microsoft's news has gone live, and it seems that as Google are slowly making their way toward the desktop, Microsoft are looking to cross them in heading to the cloud with Office 2010, SharePoint Server 2010 and Visio 2010.  Each of the new software suites gets a shot of Microsoft's "three screens" strategy with phone, browser and desktop sync, but for mainstream consumers the biggest news might just be  free online versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote.

The online versions will obviously have fewer features than their desktop counterparts, but they'll still offer basic document creation, editing and distribution functionality.  They'll also tie in with the desktop apps, which are getting their own clutch of new functionality.  Word 2010, for instance, will have collaborative editing, new navigation abilities and a nifty copy & paste boost that has Robert Scoble practically weeping with anticipation; Outlook 2010 search is improved, and there's a new threaded messaging system and the ribbon UI from other apps.

PowerPoint 2010 introduces an in-app video and image editing package, similar to iMovie and Photoshop, plus real-time slide sharing online.  Meanwhile Excel 2010 will get browser-based spreadsheet support, one-click snapshots of trends and, crucially, will offer more functionality in the online version than Google Spreadsheets.

TechCrunch have a good overview of the new features and what might change, and there are more details at the official Office 2010 site.  The software itself is expected in the first half of 2010.