six colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

Support this Site

Become a Six Colors member and get access to a monthly newsletter, exclusive weekly podcast, and community. Subscribe now!

By Dan Moren

Microsoft making Office free for iOS, Android: Too little, too late?

My previous employer (where I worked with this fine site’s proprietor) moved, fairly late in my tenure, to a Microsoft enterprise system, including an Office 365 subscription. “Great,” I thought at the time, “Now I can use those Office apps for iOS!” The number of times I (non-accidentally) launched them after first downloading them? Zero.

So I’m probably not the target demographic for Microsoft making its Office 365 apps for iOS largely free to use, as well as launching apps for Android. Previously, you could view Office documents in the iOS apps, but creating or editing them required a paid Office 365 subscription.

Office for iPad

Then again, I’m one of those folks who only ever uses Microsoft Word when the cruel, cruel vagaries of the publishing world thrust it upon me, and all my talks are done in Keynote, not PowerPoint. But I know plenty of folks in other lines of work who swear by Microsoft Excel; the ways in which they can bend that to their will are nothing short of incredible. For them, there are simply no substitutes. (That may even extend to the iOS and perhaps even Mac versions, which probably pale alongside their Windows counterpart.)

The name of this initiative, “Office Everywhere, for Everyone,” sounds like a circle of Hell to me, but given the entrenched nature of the productivity software, I’m sure there are folks who will welcome it. It’s a smart move on the part of Microsoft, which appears to have finally remembered that it’s a software company, and the more places that people can use its software, the better…but I also can’t help but think that it might be too little, too late.

I don’t want to underestimate the power of Microsoft Office. Even more than Windows, Office remains a de facto standard for a huge portion of computer users—especially in business. And large institutions are notoriously slow to change, so it’s not as though that’s all about to go away overnight.

That said, this move smacks of desperation. Because Microsoft’s shifted from a strategy of “if you want to use our apps, you have to pay for a subscription” to “okay, you can use most of the common features for free, but we hope you’ll upgrade for fancier features.” Clearly, Redmond’s hoping that first, free taste will be enough to get you hooked. Then again, if Microsoft’s subscription strategy was succeeding, it wouldn’t be making this change.

As Marco points out, Microsoft now has to compete with Google’s free web-based office apps and Apple’s free productivity apps on iOS and OS X. But both of those are essentially Trojan horses: Google wants to bring people into its ecosystem so it can make more money on ads, and Apple gives away its software to help sell its hardware. Microsoft, on the other hand, is giving away the very thing that actually makes it money. This would be like Apple giving away cheap iPhones. (And no, the $0 iPhone 5c doesn’t count, because the subsidy on those means that Apple stills gets paid.)

So maybe this helps Microsoft stay in the game, but I think my friend and colleague John Moltz already asked the more important question last year: Does Office still matter? Not like it used to, that’s for sure.

[If you appreciate articles like this one, help us continue doing Six Colors (and get some fun benefits) by becoming a Six Colors subscriber.]

[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, podcaster, and the Official Dan of Six Colors. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]