Microsoft has announced that it is giving away its Office suite of productivity software for free on iPads, iPhones and Android tablets – a sign of massive shifts within the company and the industry as a whole.
The move will let customers use Word, Excel and PowerPoint for free, storing documents locally or in the cloud for no charge as part of the company’s recently announced partnership with Dropbox.
Some advanced functionality (including track changes and chart customization) will be restricted to business licences, but for the vast majority of users everything they need to do on Microsoft Office can now be achieved at no cost – that is, if they’re happy using a touchscreen or buying a keyboard peripheral.
The decision seems to be motivated by a number of factors including competition from free web-based word processors such as Google Docs and the need to own the mobile market (especially smartphones) before rivals such as Apple’s iWork (also free) stake out too much territory.
Office has been Microsoft’s cash cow since the 1990s and generated a third of the company’s revenue last year (about $26bn) but the company will be hoping that this decision won’t affect their bottom line.
Business licenses have always made up the lion’s share of Office revenue, and at this point the company seems to think that it's more important that customers associate homework, CVs and letter writing on mobile device with Office (as they have on PCs) before Apple and Google convince people that work can be done without Microsoft - and without paying.
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