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Microsoft scraps 'Windows-first' practice, puts Office on iPad before Surface

Gregg Keizer | March 28, 2014
As expected, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella today hosted a press conference where the company unveiled Office for iPad, breaking with its past practice of protecting Windows by first launching software on its own operating system.

Office's tie with Windows had been fiercely debated inside Microsoft, but until today, operating system-first advocates had won out. But slowing sales of Windows PCs — last year, the personal computer industry contracted by about 10% — and the continued struggles gaining meaningful ground in tablets pointed out the folly of that strategy, outsiders argued.

Some went so far as to call Windows-first a flop.

Microsoft has long hewed to that strategy: The desktop version of Office has always debuted on Windows, for example, with a refresh for Apple's OS X arriving months or even more than a year later.

Microsoft today added free Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps for the iPad to the existing OneNote.

On his first day on the job, however, Nadella hinted at change when he said Microsoft's mission was to be "cloud first, mobile first," a signal, said analysts, that he understood the importance of pushing the company's software and services onto as many platforms as possible.

Nadella elaborated on that today, saying that the "cloud first, mobile first" strategy will "drive everything we talk about today, and going forward. We will empower people to be productive and do more on all their devices. We will provide the applications and services that empower every user — that's Job One."

Like Office Mobile on iOS and Android, Office for iPad was tied to Microsoft's software-by-subscription Office 365.

Although the new Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps can be used free of charge to view documents and spreadsheets, and present PowerPoint slideshows, they allow document creation and editing only if the user has an active Office 365 subscription. Those subscriptions range from the consumer-grade $70-per-year Office 365 Personal to a blizzard of business plans starting at $150 per user per year and climbing to $264 per user per year.

Moorhead applauded the licensing model. "It's very simple. Unlike pages of requirements that I'm used to seeing from Microsoft to use their products, if you have Office 365, you can use Office for iPad. That's it," Moorhead said.

He also thought that the freemium approach to Office for iPad is the right move. "They've just pretty much guaranteed that if you're presenting on an iPad you will be using their apps," said Moorhead of PowerPoint.

Moorhead cited the fidelity claims made by Julie White, a general manager for the Office technical marketing team, who spent about half the event's time demonstrating Office for iPad and other software, as another huge advantage for Microsoft. "They're saying 100% document compatibility [with Office on other platforms], so you won't have to convert a presentation to a PDF," Moorhead added.

Document fidelity issues have plagued Office competitors for decades, and even the best of today's alternatives cannot always display the exact formatting of an Office-generated document, spreadsheet or presentation.


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