Tech Crunch reports Microsoft is creating an ad suported, online version of Microsoft Works that will be free to use. Micorsoft Works 9 is Microsoft's response to Google Docs and Google Spread Sheets, OpenOffice.org, Think Free Office and a growing list of applications that are free and increasingly web-based. The online version of Works is not released yet but reported to be coming soon (sounds like Microsoft).
If Microsoft is moving Works online, this shows that web-based applications are becoming useful and cost effective tools. I like the idea of web-based applications such as Google Docs. Web-based allows you to work on any Internet connected computer and you can save your work online. Google Docs allows users to invite others to work collaberatively much like Wikis do. The downside is your Internet connection must be dependable for you to do any work. Also, they can be clunky at times. I currently use a version of Open Office at home and have used Google Docs in the past. Both applications can do just about what I needed Microsoft Office to do.
Will applications such as Google Docs and Open Office replace Microsoft Office in the near future? No, nor should they try. Most people need just a basic application to start with. If you need to do more indepth work then you can move over to Microsoft Office.
Now you have an alternative for a student who says they either don't have a computer at home or don't have a word processor at home. Just point them in the right direction.