Microsoft’s recent mobile Office moves are about re-inventing productivity

Posted by: in Software, Technology on November 7, 2014

Yesterday, Microsoft unveiled lots of news related to one of its cornerstone properties, Microsoft Office. Microsoft announced updated versions of Office for the iPhone and the iPad, and they also made the Office for Android tablets official. But the core of the news is Microsoft plans to offer free versions of Office to iOS and Android users. Those free versions (while still limited compared to the full-blown paid version of Microsoft Office) will allow users to create and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint files.

Here’s the story behind  what they announced from Microsoft’s point of view: John Case’s post on the official Microsoft blog, and a related post from the Office Team at their Office Blog.

Lots of stories in the press on the topic, but a few stood out to me. Nick Winfield’s story called out that such a move would have been unthinkable even a couple of years ago, and rightfully highlights many changes in the tech and mobile landscape that have set the stage. The Verge’s Tom Warren calls Microsoft’s mobile Office strategy a bold, yet defensive move. And finally Mary-Jo Foley at ZDNet has a really good write-up that focuses on the details of the Office for Android tablets preview, where she also points out the news from Microsoft confirms an Android tablet and touch-optimized version of Office will precede the Windows one that won’t come out until the Windows 10 timeframe.

When I first saw the news, I tweeted I was wrapping my head around it. Agree with others that these moves are about getting Office in front of as many users as possible. But, it’s bigger than that. That’s when I remembered the excellent profile of Satya Nadella and Bill Gates in Vanity Fair. In my view, these recent actions speak to Microsoft’s leader’s stated goal to “re-inventing productivity” more than anything.

Vanity Fair Profile of Satya Nadella, Bill Gates

That’s a lofty goal for sure, but I think, it’s a good one for the company, especially when there are so many competitive alternatives that are out there like Google Docs, Apple’s Productivity Apps and even hybrid collaboration options like Slack and Quip. On a side note, I’m intrigued by Quip. Not only the concept behind it, but because Bret Taylor is at the helm (along with an impressive team behind him). Would love to hear from any businesses that are using it.

I unabashedly call myself a desktop PC guy. I grew up with PCs. I use a laptop for work, but most of the time, it’s docked to drive one or two external monitors. I have two tablets: one that runs Windows RT and a Nexus 7 (stock Android FTW!). I mention these details because they all factor in how I get work done. Starting with Evernote, I eventually moved to Microsoft’s OneNote back when I was still at Dell running Dell’s blogs. I loved being able to access my notes across any device, which specially came in handy during SXSW. I had my schedule on Evernote, and could pull it up on any device that had power. For my work now, it’s routine for me to start a PowerPoint deck at work on my laptop, think through it at home by pulling it up on my tablet, crank out more work on it from my desktop PC at home, then review time on my smartphone when I’m on the road. To me, it’s great to be able to get work done whenever an idea hits me. And that’s only the personal productivity angle. Collaboration is a whole other side of the equation where we’re sure to see more innovation, whether it comes from Apple, Google, Microsoft or a startup like Quip, or someone else we haven’t heard of yet.

I know some will say that the world has changed,and office productivity apps aren’t nearly as vital as they were in the past. In my experience though, lots of businesses still depend on them every day. Add it all up, and the reality is that there’s no sure thing for Microsoft here, even in light of them being the standard for office productivity for decades. But I like the move. This will surely prompt others to respond, and that could lead to more innovation.

Like I seem to be saying a lot these days: it’s a good time to be a geek.

By: Lionel Menchaca

Lionel used to be Dell's Chief Blogger, beginning in 2006 when Dell launched its first blog. Now he's Director of Corporate & Strategy for WCG.

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