The New York Times reports that Microsoft is finally about to make available a free, if limited, software suite online.

The software giant has been facing increasingly competition from the likes of Google and OpenOffice, as well as hundreds of Silicon Valley start-ups offering software services online, referred to as "cloud computing".

Google recently added StarOffice to its free Google Pack, the software suite from Sun that offers word processing as well spreadsheets, presentation, drawing, and database capabilities.

The reports suggest that Microsoft will make its initial free offerings available via Windows Live, which boasts roughly 300 million active users. The release will let users download all the services separately or as a bundle.

The software offered initially will be Windows Live Photo Gallery, Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Messenger 8.5 and Windows Live OneCare Family Safety, a security program.