excelGoogle has ruled the roost when it comes to free web-based productivity applications. But it was just a matter of time before Microsoft too would join the game. And it looks like that day is near.

Free trials of Office Web Apps have begun as part of a technical preview offered to early testers (via the Microsoft Windoes Live service). The suite offers Excel, PowerPoint, Word, OneNote and integrates with Hotmail. Files are stored, and shared, using SkyDrive.

One big advantage Microsoft brings is its huge install base of users.

Loyal Microsoft Office will be natural targets for the new Web-based version of their favorite applications.

But for small businesses and consumers in general, I’m guessing that Google Docs will continue to satiate their needs.

If you are already a ¬†happy Google user, I don’t see any compelling reason, yet, to switch.

Stay tuned for more as I give it a test drive, and compare Web Apps with Docs.