On November 5, 2014, Microsoft announced that it would make Office available for free on mobile devices, including android devices. According to the announcement, customers can sign up for a preview today and the product will be availability in early 2015. This represents a dramatic step for Microsoft and one that is consistent with the vision that Microsoft outlined at Worldwide Partner Conference in July of this year. The vision was for Microsoft to become a more open company. In the past Microsoft has restricted Office to the Windows operating system. That began to change in March when Office for iPad was introduced and has continued to change with this announcement.
Overall this is a step in the right direction for Microsoft. Office is ubiquitous throughout the business community. It has been challenged by a number of different products over the years including Star Office from Sun and Google docs. None of these challenges has been successful. However with IT moving to a mobile first world, cloud first world, that dominance would have been called into question if the products was not available on all of the different mobile platforms, including iOS and Android. By taking this step, Microsoft is positioning itself to remain the dominant provider of productivity software. This step eliminated the need for anyone to consider switching to another product thus securing the revenue stream from O365 on laptops and desktops.
The drawback for Microsoft is the “free” part. Currently it makes sense and most people tend to create content on either laptops or desktops PCs (Yes they still do exist) and consume content on a tablet. But the lines are blurring quickly. A Microsoft Surface is clearly more PC than tablet while a Samsung Tab is much more tablet than PC. At some point Microsoft may have to decide consider the business model for office on these devices. Do they want to head down the “freemium” model and give away a light weight version of the software and charge for the full function version similar to what Adobe has done with Reader and Acrobat? Or is there a model that allows for up to 5 devices to access O365 for one fee? Eventually Microsoft will have to address these concerns, but for now this move is a step in the right direction and demonstrates Microsoft commitment to providing a more open environment.