Quick Edit | Redmond redux

Quick Edit | Redmond redux

If Microsoft Corp. were to run a restaurant, it would never give away complimentary pickled onions. And on ordering a thali, your options would start with Thali Basic (only the steel plate) and end with Thali Ultimate (enough food for four people).

The Redmond giant is not one to give away anything for free. For years, while competitors handed out free samples generously, Microsoft developed elaborate ways of fighting piracy.

Now, Microsoft is beginning to loosen up. After releasing several free applications, including an antivirus package in September, it has announced an online office suite, Office Web Apps, large portions of which will be free.

Microsoft is beginning to react to a simple truth: no longer are consumers growing up on a compulsory diet of its Windows and Office packages. Younger users are equally happy using alternatives, many available online.

Like many of its programs, Microsoft reacts slowly and cautiously. But it eventually gets things done.

Online upstarts will do well to be wary.