Home The Sheet Pulled Back on Microsoft “Albany”

The Sheet Pulled Back on Microsoft “Albany”

A few weeks ago we wrote about a rumored Microsoft Office Live product codenamed “Albany” that was supposedly entering a private beta and wondered if this could be their latest jab at Google Docs. According to various reports Albany was anything from an online version of Microsoft’s Works suite to a discounted software bundle of various Office and Live components. Yesterday we spoke with Bryson Gordon, the Group Product Manager for Microsoft’s Office Consumer and Small Business Team to get the facts about Albany and set the record straight.

As it turns out, the latter rumor was closer to the truth. Albany, which is entering an external beta with trusted regular Microsoft beta testers this week, is a software bundle that includes Microsoft Office Home and Student, Windows Live OneCare, Office Live Workspaces, and a cadre of Windows Live components including Live Mail, Messenger, Photo Gallery, and the Windows Live Toolbar.

Though a price point has yet to be set, so it remains unclear whether Albany will offer an significant savings over purchasing its components separately, it is significant for two reasons. First, it adds a wrapper around each of its compotents that automatically sets them up for consumers in just a couple of clicks. The wrapper acts as a launcher for the various pieces of Albany, which includes office, productivity, messaging, and security software, and also keeps the compontents up to date.

Second, Albany will be offered as a subscription service, and users will be entitled to automatic upgrades for the duration of their subsciption contract. It’s not quite a web app, but it does take a page out of the web app play book by going the subscription route — a direction that Microsoft is known to be heading.

While Albany, which will get a new name for before a launch tentatively scheduled for later this year, is not as compelling as the true online office web application that we’ve all be waiting and hoping for, it is still a shot at Google’s online office offerings. Clearly, this is a consumer play for Microsoft, and Google’s office suite is not ready for the enterprise (see also here from Zimbra and here from Microsoft).

Even though Albany won’t be a true web office offering, it is a likely low-cost alternative to Google Docs that lives on a user’s PC — something that is still more comfortable and familiar to many mainstream users — is all inclusive, and ties into Microsoft online services. We still hope that Microsoft eventually bites the bullet and releases an RIA version of Office that exists in the cloud, but Albany is a smart consumer offering in the meantime that may stem the flow of users jumping ship for free online alternatives by making things easier, more tightly integrated to the online Live product family, and potentially cheaper.

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