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Browser-based OpenOffice.org released

New servers are being added to meet demand for a software-as-a-service version of the popular open-source office suite

The free office tools suite OpenOffice.org has gone online for the first time through its integration with the Ulteo online desktop.

In its browser-based version, OpenOffice.org now offers online collaboration and can be used without needing to be downloaded to and installed on a client PC. The hope is that the move towards a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model will broaden the suite's user base, the organisation behind the suite said in a statement last week.

"This is an interesting development for people who want to try out OpenOffice.org without having to download and install the software," said OpenOffice.org's marketing project lead, John McCreesh, in the statement. "If you're wondering how OpenOffice.org compares to your current office software, this is a convenient way to see OpenOffice.org in action in a browser on your desktop."

Florian Effenberger, co-project lead with McCreesh, said the move would allow everyone to use the suite from any connected PC at any time. "You even can work together on documents online and collaborate with others," he said. "This especially is an interesting option for trainers and work groups."

Ulteo is a new Linux distribution that was initiated by Mandrake (now Mandriva) Linux creator Gaël Duval. It was made available as an online desktop in September, and OpenOffice.org is now its most notable feature. According to OpenOffice.org's statement, the collaboration with Ulteo makes OpenOffice.org "the de facto best online productivity suite".

Both Ulteo and the SaaS OpenOffice.org are still in beta. Fifteen thousand beta users from Europe and North America — where the Ulteo servers are based — have been invited to test the suite.

However, at the time of writing, the OpenOffice.org service was unavailable due to "too many users at the moment".

McCreesh told ZDNet.co.uk on Tuesday that Ulteo had been "completely overwhelmed with the volume of interest" in the release, but said new servers were being added to meet demand.

OpenOffice.org incorporates several open source-based alternatives to Microsoft Office, and includes applications for word processing, presentations, spreadsheets, calculations, drawing and database creation. It uses the ISO-approved OpenDocument Format (ODF) by default to read and write documents, although it also works with the document formats used by rivals like Microsoft.

Microsoft is itself gearing up to enter the online services market, but the most notable player in that field is currently Google, with its Google Apps Premier Edition (GAPE) suite.

Although the SaaS model does require constant connectivity, its advantages for users include enhanced security — data is not stored on a stealable laptop — as well as location-free access and the potential for multi-user collaboration.