During last week’s Chrome OS buzz frenzy, Robert Scoble was dropping FriendFeed hints about Microsoft’s big upcoming announcement. It turns out the big Microsoft news is Office 2010, which was formally announced today at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans. While Google’s Chrome OS is a move on Microsoft’s market, Ballmer and company are counter-attacking by moving into Google’s dominant position, the cloud. Microsoft is launching free, Web-based versions of Word, Power Point (the new version of which is more like Photoshop than before), Excel and One Note. These will be stripped-down, ad-supported versions of the purchasable software, but the important point is that they might bring a whole new consumer segment into the cloud.

Most PC users are probably more familiar with Office tools than with Google’s counterparts, so this move could serve to create a much wider audience for cloud-based apps than the one that currently exists. Five-hundred million people worldwide use some part of Microsoft Office, and one of the suite's distribution methods will be through Microsoft Live, which has a user base of 400 million.

I expect Microsoft’s foray into enemy territory to be much more successful than Google’s. Word, Power Point et alia are known products (whether we were forced or chose to know these products is beyond the scope of this article), where Chrome OS will represent a dramatic leap of faith for most customers.

While it lacks the pop-culture subtext that makes the Apple/PC wars so much fun, Microsoft and Google’s loud incursions into spaces dominated by the other during the last few months are signs that the second half of 2009 will be livelier than the first.

Granted, we’re still more at an “oh-no-they-didn’t” level than a true Gotterdammerung, but you never know.

By Mark Alvarez