Microsoft Sets Up Its Office On iPads

New Microsoft CEO Satya Nadell and his colleagues tellingly introduced a version of its Office suite for Apple iPads yesterday in ways that made a clear distinction between his style — and the company’s direction — and the past.

“Dressed in a black polo shirt and dark jeans, the 46-year-old computer scientist threw in some geek humor and lines of poetry from T.S. Eliot, marking a change in style from his energetic predecessor, Steve Ballmer,” write Reuters’ Gerry Shih and Bill Rigby. “His lack of references to Windows indicated a deeper strategic shift.”

It was Nadell’s first public presentation since ascending to the top of the virtual ladder in Redmond on Feb. 4, and he took the occasion to make a “fluid, low-key introduction to Microsoft's approach to the new mobile, cloud-centric world of computing,” they continue. 

“The cloud that is not connected to devices is just latent potential,” Nadella said early in the press conference, sounding a bit Yoda-like. He then spoke about the “magical coming together of the cloud and the mobile,” MarketWatch’s Rex Crum reported in a live blog of the press conference in San Francisco. 

“To some, the move is a refreshing sign of a new Microsoft, one slowly unshackling itself from an era when its major decisions were made in deference to Windows, Microsoft’s operating system,” writes the New York Times’ Nick Wingfield. 

It’s not that Microsoft hasn’t been headed in this direction already. 

Last June, it released Office Mobile for iPhones, giving its users “a way to view and edit native Office documents on the go,” points out Shelly Palmer on his eponymous blog. “While it worked well, it offered limited functionality,” he continues. “And let’s be honest, trying to do any real work on the iPhone’s smaller screen sounds about as fun as giving a cat a bath.”

It’s more like Microsoft has arrived at a destination, albeit perhaps after the connecting train has left the station.

“But skeptics wonder if Microsoft has waited too long, giving people who use iPads, especially business professionals, years to get used to life without it and giving an opening to start-ups and Apple’s competing products,” Wingfield continues.

The move breaks “a policy of offering tablet versions of Office exclusively on Microsoft's Windows,” the Wall Street Journal’s Shira Ovide and Steve Rosenbush pointed out in a walk-up piece before the formal announcement was made. “Microsoft long has pursued a Windows-first policy, especially with Office — a bundle of word processing, spreadsheets and other applications — to bolster the prevalence of Windows, historically the biggest contributor to its profits.”

“Welcome to the #iPad and @AppStore!” tweeted Apple CEO Tim Cook after the proceedings. “Thanks @tim_cook, excited to bring the magic of @Office to iPad customers,” Nadella responded.

“Nadella is aware that Microsoft faces skepticism but even though many iPad users already use inexpensive products that offer features similar to Office, a product from Microsoft would be expected to provide better compatibility with Office on PCs than any third party can provide,” writes CNET’s Charles Cooper.

“The real goal for us is to set up to provide the apps and services that empower every user across all of these devices and experiences,” said Nadella. “That's perhaps the job number one that we do: To empower people to be productive.”

But true productivity will come with an ongoing cost. 

“The good news is that the new apps are free, but the bad news is that they're read-only runtimes unless you pony up for an Office 365 subscription,” writes ZDNet’s Jason D. O'Grady, “… which comes in a number of flavors: Business plans that include the iPad apps cost $12.50 to $15.00 per month and Home Premium (5 desktops and 5 tablets) costs $9.99 per month.) 

The plans are broken down here; a personal plan costing $6.99 per month or $69.99 per year will also be offered in a few months.  

PC World reviewer Mark Hachman likes what he sees, giving the software four and a half out of a possible five stars. 

“Apple claims that products like its Pages are the most beautiful office software for iPad and other Apple devices,” he writes. ‘With Office for iPad, Microsoft has stolen that crown.”

In another announcement yesterday, Microsoft said that Office would henceforth be free in its iPhone and Android phone versions, reports Time’s Jared Newman. Previously, “you couldn’t create or edit documents without an Office 365 subscription, which starts at $7 per month. Now, all you need is a free Microsoft account,” he writes, pointing out that the “smartphone versions aren’t particularly robust” but “could be useful for light editing and note taking.”

They’ll also be useful for keeping all that work we do over the weekend in the Microsoft family.

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