BitDepth#930 - April 01

Microsoft announces a version of Office for the iPad.
Microsoft introduces Office for iPad
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella introduces Office for iPad. Photo courtesy Microsoft.

The introduction of Office for iPad last Thursday marked a crucial step forward for Microsoft in its efforts to expand its user base into widely used tablet and smartphone platforms.

To be clear, the Redmond software company isn’t really selling Office on these new devices, it’s selling Office 365, a cloud based subscription service (US$100 per year) that’s now available on Windows, Macintosh, Android and now fully on iOS.

If the company decides to make a version available for Linux, perhaps the widely used Ubuntu build, it will stand a good chance of reestablishing Office as the preferred platform for workplace productivity in an increasingly diverse world of software and devices.

But getting here hasn’t been easy. The company dawdled along for long years while smartphone and tablet use soared and became entrenched as mediums for not just media consumption, but increasingly for widely varying levels of productive work.

While it’s been getting its own approach in order, other software companies have worked to fill the breach, offering web based solutions that are increasingly viable in a world in which broadband is growing more pervasive, or products that are networked at their core, like the popular Evernote, which trades word processing power for seamless synchronisation and a researcher’s pallette of tools.

Increasingly, the golden bullet for modern software is accessibility. People want to access the same material no matter where they are and which device they happen to be using. Such users will take advantage of the easiest, cheapest tools that get them there.

Will that suite of tools include Office 365 and its various device incarnations?
Satya Nadella, the company’s new CEO, is banking on it and doing so with enthusiasm.
“Microsoft is focused on delivering the cloud for everyone, on every device,” he told the press at the launch of Office for iPad last week.

“It’s a unique approach that centers on people—enabling the devices you love, work with the services you love, and in a way that works for IT and developers.”
I’d seen Nadella in action seven years ago at a Microsoft Convergence meeting in San Diego back when we both had more hair and most of it was black.

It’s almost impossible to form any kind of definitive opinion of someone after just a few moments onstage, but Nadella’s pitch of the company’s new customer relations management tool was even, sensible and clear, even to a non-developer.

There was also no shrill rabble rousing on Thursday. Nadella wasn’t selling koolaid, he was reminding users of the value of Office, the tapwater of corporate productivity, and it was a refreshing change from traditional pro-Microsoft sales pitches.

This was a conversation with the media that positioned the Office suite as a useful cross-platform tool that users should consider. But it’s likely to require more than just being available to get users to dip in.
If you aren’t currently an Office 365 user, Office for Android and iOS are simply viewers until you pay for a subscription. You can look at documents, but editing isn’t enabled unless you pay to play.

Office for iPad uses Apple’s in-app purchasing system to do this. You download the software for free then either buy the US$79.95 version, which gets you Word and Powerpoint or go for the full suite, which includes Excel for US$20 more.

For existing Office365 users, this new edition of the suite is a no-brainer. Log in, connect, get to work.
For some others, it will be a boon, allowing them to press their iPads into use as an extension of their existing hardware

But it’s the others that Microsoft will have to work hardest on, building a compelling user scenario that lures them from tools they are already using, such as Pages/iCloud, Evernote, Google Docs and Dropbox which may not all sport the power and elegance of Office, but which have the advantage of being first movers in the iOS space.

Since this story was written. Apple has announced that Office for iPad hit 12 million downloads in its first week.
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