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Microsoft Office must evolve to remain successful

Juan Carlos Perez | July 16, 2012
Office has been a wildly successful product for Microsoft, but its continued dominance is far from assured as software moves to the cloud and employees bring their own tablets and smartphones into work.

In particular, an Office version for the iPad can't wait, because the tablet has become a workplace tool for many people who bought it initially for personal use and ended up bringing it to the office as well. "Microsoft needs to do this," said industry analyst Michael Osterman, from Osterman Research.

Osterman said he wouldn't be surprised if Microsoft continued to balk at porting Office to iOS, especially now that it plans to release its own tablet, called Surface, which will run its new Windows 8 operating system with its new Metro interface designed for touch devices like tablets. However, this would be a costly mistake, he said.

The "bring your own device" (BYOD) trend is sweeping enterprises, and end users are clamoring for the ability to use products like Office and SharePoint from their mobile device of choice, Creese said.

"If Microsoft pooh-poohs that reality and says it'll only put Office on Windows 8 tablets, that means they just don't get it," Creese said.

How Microsoft optimizes its applications for the various mobile devices is a tall order that will involve re-thinking their purpose and use in smartphones, touch-only tablets and hybrid devices that have both touch screens and mice/keyboards.

It might mean offering some applications via mobile browsers that support HTML5, while delivering others as platform-specific apps.

"The form factor influences what you can and expect to do with the applications," said Philipp Karcher, a Forrester Research analyst.

Microsoft needs to be careful in this process, because a half-baked offer could harm the Office brand and fail to live up to the expectations people have for the suite, he said.

And Microsoft needs to figure that out quickly, because users want the option to employ the applications on a variety of devices today, Creese said.

"The 'Windows first' days, especially in mobile devices, are absolutely over," he said. "Microsoft may wish it otherwise, but that's not how people are working."

Karcher concurs. "There's no question that mobile devices are exploding in adoption and people want to see what is Microsoft's story for getting Office on those devices," he said.

Another priority should be to beef up the features in Office 365, so users don't feel that to take advantage of the cloud model they have to compromise on functionality.

Full parity between the on-premise versions of Office, Lync, SharePoint and Exchange and their online counterparts may not be possible, but there is an opportunity to narrow the functionality gap that exists today, Osterman said.

"Microsoft should align both more closely," he said.

The company can also do more to simplify life for IT administrators who have to manage users on both Office 365 and the on-premise versions of its components, Karcher said.


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