Update: When I hitched my wagon to Microsoft here at The Tech Chat, I did so because the Surface Pro 3 convinced me that they’re doing some exciting and strategic things to become relevant again. Their decision, announced today, to offer Office Mobile for free to consumers (no longer requiring an Office 365 subscription to edit documents) just makes me more certain that Microsoft is taking off the gloves. I’m not sure what this says about Office 365 consumer subscriptions (accessing OneDrive for Business requires a subscription), although unlimited OneDrive storage is a plus, but it definitely means that Microsoft sees the value of being present on every device out there.
Update 2: So, there are some limits to the completely free versions. Some functionality is listed as “premium,” and requires an Office 365 subscription to access–I haven’t checked, but I’m guessing that it’s the functionality that goes above and beyond what the free options (such as Google Docs) offer.
Microsoft’s mantra back in the early days was “a computer on every desk and in every home” (running Microsoft software, of course). It’s fair to say that Microsoft accomplished this lofty objective, or at least contributed handily to its accomplishment.
Today, Microsoft’s mantra seems to be “Microsoft on every device.” They were late to the mobile game and so conceded market share to iOS and Android, and face new or renewed competition on the desktop and in notebooks with OS X and Chromebook. Their response is brilliant, even though it causes some pain to Windows tablet users who lament an iOS version of Office showing up before a modern UI version.
What Microsoft is doing is simple: by pushing Office to iOS and soon Android, they’re making sure that they have a presence on every device on the market (or, at least, the ones that matter). This isn’t to say that they don’t want to make Windows Phone successful, but rather that if they don’t success in getting some kind of foothold in iOS and Android, they risk becoming irrelevant. Office is the perfect Trojan horse, in that it’s still an industry standard and its recognized as the de facto document editing standard. Indeed, it may be the absence of Office on iOS and Android that allowed Apple’s iWork and Google Docs to gain any traction at all.
Yesterday’s announcement of unlimited OneDrive storage with every Office 365 subscription is equally brilliant. Not only does it make Office that much more attractive, but it also solidifies yet another piece of Microsoft. Paul Thurrot wrote about how Microsoft is killing third-party cloud storage providers with this move. I think that’s likely true, but I don’t think it’s their objective. Rather, I think they simply want every device out there–Windows, Windows Phone, OS X, iOS, Android, Chromebook–locked into Microsoft as their document storage back end via OneDrive with Office as the front end.
Over the long term, I think this benefits Windows and eventually Microsoft’s mobile platform, which will soon enough become just Windows as well. At least for those users concerned about productivity (which I think Microsoft rightly considers the vast majority of users, ultimately), this makes Windows on any device far more attractive. After all, if you’re using Office to edit documents and OneDrive to store them, then why not switch to Windows and put all of your computing (particularly with a Microsoft 365-type of all-you-can-eat subscription) under one umbrella?
Sure, Microsoft may not convince a large percentage of OS X, iOS, Android, and Chromebook users to switch to Windows, but their chances of doing so are infinitely greater if those users are already solidly in the Microsoft camp. There’s a chance, however slim, of convincing an iPhone Office/OneDrive user to switch to Windows on their smartphone, but there’s virtually zero chance of convincing an Android Google Docs customer to switch. And, one can’t ignore the impact this has on business and the enterprise–any company even thinking about switching to Apple and Google have even less reasons to do so.
Finally, and just as important: Office 365 subscriptions generate real revenue and are incredibly profitable. They’re a business all by themselves, and a legitimate one. Microsoft can therefore make lots of money whether or not iOS and Android users switch to Windows, as long as Office 365 is enough of a compelling solution.
Yes, Microsoft is making some good moves lately. And Microsoft fans, take heart: they haven’t forgotten about us when they push their solutions on other platforms.* They’re just making sure that they remain a player.
* One corollary of this argument is that, ultimately, Microsoft may not be set on converting people to Windows. They may look at the operating system as what it essentially is–a way to connect with Microsoft productivity solutions. I think that’s possible, but not likely. Microsoft is far more secure the more people are running those productivity solutions on Windows. If it’s true that an Office 365 user is more likely to switch to Windows, then it’s also true that a Windows user is less likely to switch to Google Docs or, certainly, iWork. This is particularly true considering that Apple has shown no interest in running their productivity apps on Windows, and as an advertising company Google isn’t really in the business of providing productivity solutions and thus won’t ever really compete with Microsoft.
Update: Apparently, as pointed out to my by Twitter user @talhafbasit, Steve Jobs said roughly the same thing about cloud storage as Thurrott argues in his post, back when Apple started adding in such features to their products. I would argue that Microsoft is doing a far better job of making it a reality, as well as making it more ubiquitous and strategic. But credit where credit is due…