For all the talk of how Windows is under pressure from free alternatives, it's easy to forget that Office is also a huge contributor to Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) stock returns. Now, Mr. Softy is taking steps to define the franchise, Fool contributor Tim Beyers says in the following video.

Last week, the company made the free version of Office more visible at its site. Users can simply navigate to and begin using the online version. Or, if they have a subscription to the more fully featured Office 365 suite, that confers access to iOS and Android versions of the software.

Either way, the branding shift is notable in that it comes as users are becoming more accustomed to using online productivity suites, an area that Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) is well known for via Google Apps. Gartner has said that the software accounted for between 33% to 50% of the cloud-office market in 2012. Google, for its part, has said that five million companies are using Google Apps for Business.

Neither statistic speaks well for Microsoft, especially when you consider that Apple also offers online apps via iCloud. And yet Office is easily the best-known brand in the market for productivity software, accounting for a huge portion of Microsoft's Business Division revenue (more than $24 billion in each of the last two fiscal years).

Making it easier for entry-level customers to get web access to Office apps could help keep rivals at bay while preserving the core of the franchise via sales of advanced versions or extra support, Tim argues.

Now it's your turn to weigh in. Do you plan to use Office Online? Are you subscribed to Office 365? Please watch the video to get Tim's full take, then leave a comment to let us know what you think of the strategy, and whether you would buy, sell, or short Microsoft stock at current prices.

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Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission. He owned shares of Apple and Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's web home and portfolio holdings or connect with him on Google+Tumblr, or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.

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