Software giant Microsoft (MSFT) is preparing to offer a free, web-based version of its popular Office software suite next week, according to the Financial Times. Microsoft is targeting Google (GOOG), which has aggressively pushed into the web-based software space with its Google Docs product.

It's a highly symbolic development for Microsoft, which built a software empire charging users for its desktop-based Office suite, which includes popular programs like Word and Excel. The move affirms the growing influence of so-called "cloud computing," in which software and services are distributed via the web and data is stored on remote servers. Google has been a champion of this model.

Microsoft first showcased its free, web-based Office product last month. At the time, Stephen Elop, the president of Microsoft's business software division, called it "a remarkable moment."

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