Opinions

Why Microsoft shouldn’t release Office for other platforms

Updated (16/06/2013) – Scroll down for update

Overview

Yes, the general buzz among the press & some analyst is that Microsoft should release their Office suite for Android & iOS because it could make them an additional USD2.5 billion a year of revenue. PC is in decline with sharp YoY reduction in shipment & Windows will soon be irrelevant.

I disagree on all these points because I think the short-term gain will actually hurt the overall Microsoft eco-system & is a bad business decision all round. Wintel is in a transition of shifting to full-mobile with Microsoft betting on Windows 8, RT & WP8 and Intel betting on going low-power with minimal performance increase with Haswell & Bay Trail CPUs.

The world economy is also slowing down & more people are upgrading their current PCs than buying new ones because for the 2nd time in history, Windows 8 can run on lesser hardware than Windows 7, just like Windows 7 can run on lesser hardware then Windows Vista.

I’ve been upgrading my PC for more than 10 years with a motherboard/CPU/RAM change every 3-4 years & other peripherals as and when my PC games requires.

So why do I disagree with these analyst? Maybe because of hindsight…

Time for some history lesson

In 1996, Palm Pilot was launched as a simple organizer with a touchscreen + handwriting input. It was a hit very quickly due to its simplicity, small size & light weight, and it soon replaced many paper organizer. The PDA moniker was born.

Microsoft quickly realize that there was demand for a mobile version of Windows on small touchscreen devices & soon launched Pocket PC in 2000. Many professional soon realize the power of having Windows in the pocket. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy to use & it’s also impossible to use without a stylus so initial marketshare wasn’t very high.

Palm very quickly updated their OS capabilities & greatly improved the hardware on a yearly basis & very soon, they’re the dominant smart devices on the market. However, when the phone & Internet was introduced into the hardware, Palm started to struggle againstĀ more general-purpose operating systems like PocketPC & Symbian.

As the PDA & mobile phone converged allowing the convenience of wireless Internet access through GPRS data connectivity, Microsoft quickly secured many vendors to make Windows Mobile & Windows Mobile Phones & opened their development tools for free to encourage developers to make apps for it.

This resulted in some of the best apps coming to Windows Mobile first or exclusively. This on top of the capability of the OS being able to run on very underpowered ARM CPU of the time soon saw Windows Mobile surpass Palm as the dominant platform.

*Symbian is more of a smarter feature phone than general-purpose smartphone that we recognize today so I don’t regard Symbian as a true smartphone until late 2000 when it was too late*

One of the reasons is MS Office Mobile + the huge amount of free apps + some very high quality paid apps. For serious smartphone users of the day, the only platform to consider was Windows Mobile. It’s also well-known that many Palm users “graduated” to Windows Mobile as they found Palm too restrictive.

Unfortunately, Microsoft didn’t take iOS & Android seriously enough & Windows Mobile 6 was not a big change from Windows Mobile 5 resulting in 2 years of stalled development & lost of the market.

Current situation

So it’s well-known that Microsoft is trying to win back marketshare & mineshare with Windows RT, Windows Phone & Surface devices.

Many professionals have tried iPad & Android tablets for work & many are feeding back that these touch-devices should have many features that Windows 8 & RT already have for years like Windowing, robust Networking stack with Enterprise level encryption support for Active Directory, device management & Microsoft Office.

In fact, many professionals & students who are more savvy are putting aside their iPads & Android tablets for the new Microsoft Surface & Surface Pro because these are viable tablets AND laptop replacement devices that runs Microsoft Office!

One of my clients just picked up his Surface RT in Singapore soon after launch because after years of iPad & Android tablets, he hasn’t found a suitable replacement for Microsoft Office which he needed for work. He said that he can finally sell his iPad & Android tablet.

Besides the Microsoft Surface devices, there’re also pretty decent hybrids like the Lenovo Thinkpad 2, HP Envy X2, Acer Iconia W510/700 & Samsung ATIV Smart PC. If you like exotic flavours, there are the Asus Taichi & Dell Yoga to consider as well.

These devices running Windows 8 & to some extent Windows RT can already do more than iPads & Android tablets because they’re full OS & not stripped-down mobile OS. So in terms of entertainment, Windows tablets is already well covered. You can run VLC player or Media Player Classic which can play almost all known audio & video format & connect it to your Full HD TV for large screen goodness. Since there’s an HDMI connector in every Win 8/RT tablet, you can connect to your AV Receiver & replace your media boxes like WDTV & A.C. Ryan.

At the same time, you can get work done because these devices all support Microsoft Office. Windows RT even bundles it for free with the exception of Outlook.

The future

So we can see that Windows is intricately tied to Office & vice versa. Microsoft is trying to secure Windows future by going “Metro” or “Modern” or the Tile thing that flips all the time. It looks daunting & different and people are scared of change but trust me… It’s the right way forward. Icons are so 90s & Widgets can consume battery like crazy.

This means that for Microsoft to succeed in the future, Windows must succeed & for that to happen, people mindset must be change & this education/perception takes time. Once people have accepted & embraced Metro, Microsoft can think about releasing Office for other platforms, or not…

If Microsoft were to release Office for other platforms now, they would basically be shooting both feet off Windows 8/RT proverbial legs. This is similar to the situation now with Windows Phone 8.

Microsoft should strengthen WP8 by releasing more first-party Xbox games like Halo. They should also have released 1st-party apps like the fantastic Photosynth on WP first, instead of iOS. And don’t even get me started on Skype. After almost 1 year, the dream of free video calls or VoIP just like a normal phone call hasn’t been fulfilled. Skype should already be integrated into WP People & Message Hub by now!

Let’s hope Windows Blue brings all these together & don’t let Office leave the family. There’s no turning back once MS Office is outside Windows. It’s as good as losing control of your best property.

Update 1

On 14/6/2013, Microsoft announced Office Mobile for iPhone, which is very similar to what Windows Mobile had since 2003 and Windows Phone since 2010. You need an active Office 365 account to use Office for iOS and yes, editing is possible but clumsy on a small screen (same problem in Windows Mobile & Windows Phone). Office for iPad is still not available, which isĀ a smart move.

I think Microsoft did the right thing. On one hand, they’ve shown that Office for iOS is 100% ready, to appease pesky institutional investors, but at the same time, they aren’t giving Office away (yet) to the iPad to solidify Apple’s growing foothold in the Enterprise market.

Microsoft have the responsibility to ensure that traditional PC ecosystem players from software houses & hardware OEM have figured out how to transition to a purely mobile PC platform before they allow Office to move to other platform (if ever, hopefully never.)

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