Microsoft today launched a limited beta test of its Office Web Apps, the company's first public unveiling of its rival for Google's Web applications.

Dubbed a "technical preview" by Microsoft to denote that it's by invitation only, Office Web Apps will be available on the company's Windows Live site via a special "Documents" tab, a company spokeswoman said. "Tens of thousands have been invited to participate in the Technical Preview," said the spokeswoman in a reply to questions.

"This is earlier than I expected," said Rob Helm, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash.-based research company that specializes in tracking Microsoft's moves. "I thought we wouldn't see this until the SharePoint conference at the end of October. Maybe the recent Google moves had some bearing on Microsoft's timing."

Helm's reference was to Google's announcement Tuesday that the search giant will offer online services next year, including Google Web Apps, that are specially designed for U.S. government agencies.

Full story: Computerworld