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Google wages war on Microsoft's Office with free iOS, Android apps

Gregg Keizer | Sept. 23, 2013
Quickoffice is now free to anyone with a Google account; but Microsoft execs promise Office will come to non-Windows platforms

Microsoft has shipped Office for Apple's iPhone and Android smartphones, tying both apps to Office 365, the company's "rent-not-buy" software subscription model. But as experts have pointed out, there's a big difference between availability on a smartphone, where document editing is nigh impossible, and on tablets, which are much more conducive to content creation.

"Every day Microsoft waits, Office market share erodes," said Hilwa on Thursday. "People will learn to stick with the other stuff."

Google and others -- Apple last week began giving away its iWork productivity apps to new iPhone and iPad buyers -- are counting on convincing consumers to try their wares while Microsoft dawdles.

"They're hoping that traction in the consumer side will somehow sway enterprises," said Hilwa. "There's a little bit of truth to that."

But he also said that Microsoft's headlock on the enterprise productivity market is safe for the foreseeable future. "All the functionality that Office has accrued in a company, whether that's templates or employees' invested skills, makes it very hard to switch. So Microsoft has some time [to offer Office on others' tablets] because of Office's stickiness in the enterprise.

"Meanwhile, Google and Apple are taking advantage of the absence of Office as much as they can," Hilwa said.

Other experts have downplayed the idea that Office can be unseated from its catbird seat in the enterprise, including Wes Miller of Directions on Microsoft, who on his personal Getwired blog was blunt. "Nothing will ever replace Microsoft Office -- at least for the time being for a huge chunk of business users," Miller wrote.

Like Hilwa, Miller saw rivals' opportunities primarily among consumers. "The users who have likely had the most 'success' (using the term loosely) with replacing Office are likely individual users ... who are simply using Office documents as containers, not using any Office-specific features [in] much depth, and can likely survive just using the document export features in Google Docs, iWork, or any other Web/mobile productivity suite not from Microsoft."

Hilwa added small businesses to the groups that can abandon Office for alternatives. "Small companies tend to behave like consumers," he said.

"There's some exposure for Microsoft here," Hilwa continued. "Microsoft is playing a game of brinksmanship by betting that Office is more valuable as a push start for Windows. Whether it plays out [that it loses customers by withholding Office on the iPad] is, of course, another story."

On Thursday, Microsoft dropped several hints that it's aware of the Office-on-iPad argument and the risk it faces by not taking the suite to the iOS and Android tablet market, and that it would make that move.


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