This morning, Microsoft announced a number of changes to its Office productivity tools that will expand their mobile availability, and allow more of the public to use the apps for free.
Office for iPad, released earlier this year to quick adoption, has been updated to include a full set of iPhone-friendly applications. The new unified apps, called Office for iOS, are being released along with a preview of Office for Android tablets, software that has been long-expected. Microsoft intends to allow users, roughly, in the tens of thousands to test its new Android Office tablet apps, to better understand the wildly varied hardware, and software fragmentation facts-of-life that go along with that platform.
In the updated applications, promised integration with storage provider Dropbox also comes into effect.
Prior to the new code, Office on iPhone and for Android tablets was a single app on each platform. It was underpowered, poorly reviewed, and a general afterthought. The Android set of tablet Office apps will come out of preview in early 2015.
Microsoft is also loosening the rules on how Office’s mobile apps can be used. When Office was initially released for iPad, the company had very strict rules on who could use its editing tools — if you were not an Office 365 subscriber, the apps were limited. Now, Office will be up for basic “authoring” and “editing” by anyone, according to the firm, regardless of whether a user is a paying Office 365 customer or not.
The change is mildly radical. Microsoft has been slowly peeling away the pay-layer restrictions of Office over time. The release of Office Online, for example, came when Microsoft was still happily selling Office apps for desktop in a box, for hundreds of dollars. Even more ironic is that now, all the above free software comes under the same business model auspices. Just head over to Amazon and see how much Office can cost.
Microsoft, asked by TechCrunch, indicated that the touch-friendly version of Office for Windows machines will be released something in-time with Windows 10. Those apps, a build of Office for its own mobile computing platform, are late to market.
I played with the new iOS Office apps, and found them to be robust, and surprisingly fully-featured. Some features, of course, will be constrained if you are not an Office 365 customer. So, it’s something of a balancing act — Microsoft wants to provide strong free apps to get and keep users on Office, regardless of where they are working, but, at the same time, wants to keep enough on the paid side to attract new paying users.
Office 365, on both the consumer and business sides, has been a hit for the company, and a needed one. With its Windows revenues in decline or flat depending on the quarter, and Office’s former business model torched by changes across the software market, Office 365 is something akin to a one-shot take. If the company gets it wrong, billions in revenue will fall away.