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updated 3/5/2008 8:05:17 PM ET 2008-03-06T01:05:17

Microsoft Corp. raked in tens of billions of dollars selling software last year.

Now, it's giving away a sliver of that — $100,000, plus prizes — to entice people to try a new, free program.

(Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

Office Live Workspace, a Web hub for document sharing, was first announced as a limited test late last year. Starting this week, anyone can sign up to store word processing documents, spreadsheets and other files in a Live Workspace of his or her own. Users can share access to the files with friends, who can use a Web browser to read them and make comments.

Microsoft has added a few bells and whistles since the early test was announced but didn't budge on critics' key sticking point: Users can't actually create or edit Office documents using the service. To do that, people still need to buy Office.

Microsoft is betting computer users are so attached to the sophisticated features in Office that they'll continue to shell out for desktop software rather than defect to a free alternative.

Google Inc.'s Google Docs, for example, offers Web-based word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software for free — along with the kind of sharing features Office Live Workspace offers.

So far, the software maker's productivity-suite dominance has seemed unshakable. So why a sweepstakes, with the $100,000 grand prize and more than 30,000 other goodies, including hundreds of Zune digital media players and Xbox 360 video game systems?

It's just "a fun means to celebrate the beta launch," said a Microsoft spokesperson in an e-mail.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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