Salesforce.com has created a plug-in for Microsoft Corp.'s Office that allows users to import data from the Salesforce.com online CRM (customer relationship management) service into Word, Excel and Outlook.

"The service is the server," said salesforce.com Chairman CEO Marc Benioff at a launch event in San Francisco.

Salesforce.com Office Edition is available to all Salesforce.com customers at no charge. The software creates new pull-down menus in the Office applications, allowing users to sign into Salesforce.com and pull data from the CRM system, Salesforce.com representatives said.

The plug-in for Office was created using Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) and works with Office 2000, Office XP and Office 2003, according to Salesforce.com. VBA ships as part of Office and is the Office language that macros are written in.

Adding the software allows users to retrieve data only, not work on data in Excel or Word and then upload it to the Salesforce.com system. Uploading data is possible but requires more, probably custom software development, said Peter Gassner, a Salesforce.com senior vice president and general manager.

"Data retrieval is pretty straightforward. There are more varied scenarios when you talk about putting data back into the system," he said. "We may over time have a very generic bidirectional system that will work for all customers."

The download feature provides several benefits, Gassner said. These include the ability to automatically generate customer proposals in Word by merging data from Salesforce.com with a Word document, and the ability to analyse data in Excel, he said.