What’s the one of the first things that a new CEO needs to do to differentiate himself from his predecessor? Do something that said predecessor would never do perhaps.
For years, Steve Ballmer stubbornly refused to adapt Office to run on non-Windows platforms, such as Google and Apple. Now that Satya Nadella is at the helm of Microsoft however he’s pushing for a cross-platform strategy, just as a former head of cloud services should do if he’s genuinely trying to retool the firm into a mobile-first, cloud-first company.
So it is that the Apple App Store now has Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint available for free download for iOS 7, with the apps suitably overhauled to work with the iPad's layout and form factor.
There’s a catch, of course. It’s a freemium model so while you can download the apps for nothing and can view existing documents without charge, if you actually want to create or edit anything you’re looking at needing to sign up for an Office 365 subscription, starting price $70 per annum.
Office now comes with a variety of options depending on the platform:
- Microsoft Office Mobile: previously required an Office 365 subscription, but you can now create Word docs and edit and view PowerPoint (but not create) for nothing.
- Microsoft Office Online: requires a free Microsoft account, as well as use of a service like OneDrive, but users have limited functionality to create, view, and edit documents.
- Microsoft Office for iPad: Free of charge to view documents, but as stated above users need to subscribe to Office 365 to edit and create documents.
- Office 365: Home users pay $9.99 per month for a Home Premium subscription for five PCs and five tablets, or $6.99/month for a Personal subscription that includes one PC and one tablet.
- Microsoft Office 2013: Three different versions: Home & Student, Home & Business, and Professional, ranging in price from $111 to $300.
iPads are us
Office for iPad of course grabbed the headlines, with Twitter love-ins between Nadella and Apple CEO Tim Cook:
But the iPad news was emblematic of the sea change in attitude of the new 52-day old regime under Nadella who said of the new offering in relation to the wider Office 365 push:
"When it comes to Office 365, the vision is pretty straightforward. It is to make sure that the 1 billion Office users and growing can have access to the high-fidelity Office experience on every device they love to use. And Office on the iPad and today's announcement marks one more step in that direction.
"Today the fact that anyone who is an Office 365 subscriber can get access to those beautiful applications on the iPad and do more is definitely the news of the day, but you can expect us, our commitment going forward is to make sure that we drive Office 365 everywhere. So that means across the Web, across all phones, across all tablets, across PCs, that's our real commitment to Office 365 everywhere."
He also placed emphasis on his mobile-first, cloud-first vision for Microsoft:
"We are absolutely committed to making our applications run what most people describe as cross-platform great. There's no holding back of anything. It is about being able to excel everywhere our customers are. One of the questions is, is this a massive tradeoff for you? There is no tradeoff.
"It's reality for us. It's not a competitive reality. That's not what motivates us. What motivates us is the realities of our customers. What motivates us is to make sure that we build the great experiences that span the digital life and digital work of our customers, both individually and as organizations. And that's what you can count on us doing, both with Windows as well as other platforms. And that's what's driving us."
So will Office on an iPad woo users back from the arms of Google and others? Angela Eager at Techmarketview argues:
The convenience of the same application across devices and platforms (and online) will work - the free versions of Word and Excel have already become top downloads on the Apple store - and the frustration of not being able to edit will drive a move to subscriptions. It will not replicate the desktop virtual monopoly but will open up a new revenue stream – and keep Office relevant.
More subtle but telling is Microsoft's determination to provide for users' personal and business requirements (and those of IT professionals managing mixed environments) in a unified fashion, aided by the newly announced Enterprise Mobile Suite as well as the Office strategy. Users blur the boundary between work and personal life but suppliers are slower to cater for that – Microsoft is attempting to establish a position here.
Over at Forrester Research, Frank Gillett notes the iPad glamor, but finds more interest in the notion that Microsoft has realized that the cloud services platform, not the operating system needs to be at the forefront of the platform wars.
The measure of a person's commitment to a particular platform or ecosystems should be the user accounts that they have, the content they store in those cloud service, and whom they trust with stored credit cards. So you can't tell if someone is an Apple customer just because they use an iPhone - you have to look inside the device to see who's apps they use most, and what cloud services they use.
Many iOS customers are in fact more involved with the Google digital platform than they are with Apple's and many Android customers have little to no engagement with Google because they use the apps and services that the device maker or service provider put on their home screen.
Microsoft's challenge is to get more customers engaged on their digital platform - using Outlook.com email, OneDrive for file storage, and Office 365 for productivity. So Microsoft can win in the digital platform, regardless of whose operating system is on the device.
A new beginning for Microsoft? On the surface (sorry!), it looks that way.
Nadella posits a powerful new direction for the firm and his cloud services inheritance certainly puts him front and centre to cast aside the Ballmer baggage.
But is it too late or better late then never? Too early to tell. We’re only 52 days in after all.
As for Office for iPad. I have two iPads. With zero Microsoft apps on them.
That’s not about to change.