If there’s one thing that you can rely on Microsoft for, it’s the timely updates to its most essential software products. Last year we saw the release of its groundbreaking, touch-enabled Windows 8 operating system, and now today consumers can finally get their hands on an up-to-date version of the Office productivity platform.
The Office 365 suite packs all the old staples – Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook – and all of these have been tinkered with the new touchscreen interface in mind. Most of the new features are pretty superficial, but the really big change is in the way that Office is now being sold and updated, with Microsoft opting for the subscription route just like we do with popular music download or file sharing services.
For the what seems like a reasonable price of $99.99 a year, users can download and use Office with all the aforementioned programs, plus OneNote, Access and Publisher, 60 minutes of free Skype calls and 20GB of SkyDrive storage, on up to five devices – including PCs, Macs and tablet/PC hybrids like the Surface Pro. This price is discounted to $79.99 for both students and those that buy a Windows 8 PC at the same time as they buy Office 365, while an alternative subscription lets users ‘pay-as-they-go’ at $9.99 a month for full access to the new suite.
Next month, Microsoft said that it’ll be releasing the Office 365 Small Business Premium version of the software, which costs $149.99 a year with additional features like a 25GB Outlook mailbox, the ability to set up a public website with free hosting, and also host online meetings.
Switching to a subscription model is clearly a smart move that will benefit both Microsoft and consumers. As SiliconANGLE Contributing Editor John Casaretto explained when the model was first announced, subscriptions will give Microsoft a consistent revenue stream, whilst struggling businesses will no longer have to worry about the huge upfront costs of getting Office software installed in their IT systems.
The pricing is a clear indication that Microsoft is hoping to convince consumers that Office is the most cost-effective productivity suite around. As part of this effort, users will also be able to download upgrades for free when they become available. For heavy Office users, and especially those who need the software on more than one device, the subscription plan would seem to make a lot more sense than the old-style standalone licenses.
Microsoft Bets Big on the Cloud
Probably the biggest difference from the home user’s point of view will be the way in which Office is integrated with SkyDrive. Microsoft has included support so that users can directly save and open documents within SkyDrive, making it easier than ever to edit and share documents while switching between different devices. This also applies to mobile devices, where there are several OneNote clients available for Windows Phone, Android and iOS. With Windows Phone, users will also be able to view and edit Word, PowerPoint and Excel files. It’s not clear what Microsoft plans to do with the full version of Office Mobile on iOS and Android, but it’s likely that these will somehow tie into its subscription plan as well.
Clearly, Microsoft is hoping to convince consumers that the future lies with subscriptions and the cloud. Even so, the changes to Office are far less apparent than when one compares Windows 7 to Windows 8. Office 365 has had a facelift, but functionality-wise it users will find it’s still very familiar, something that will perhaps win over those skeptics who have been less than impressed with the new operating system.
Undoubtedly, Microsoft has invested a lot in the new Office, but then it needed to. With Google pushing it hard for a slice of the enterprise action, Microsoft’s move to embrace a future in the cloud is a timely one and also an important step on its “fundamental shift” towards becoming a devices and services company.