It feels strange to be writing about Microsoft and not mentioning a security loophole or zero-day exploit, but it is the day before April Fool’s after all. Fortunately for the iPad faithful, this isn’t a prank. On March 27, Microsoft launched iPad versions of it’s most used office productivity applications: Word, Excel and PowerPoint, all of them available for free download through the App store. “What’s the catch,” I hear you say? You can use them free, forever, to view documents, but if you want to create or edit documents, you need to have a subscription to Office365.com, the minimum of which is $70/year.
What this means for you:
The lack of any official MS Office software may have been one of the remaining tenuous barriers holding the iPad back from a complete domination of corporate boardrooms. Long a favorite of executives but usually relegated to email-only roles because of this lack, Office for the iPad may allow the C-suite to completely cut the cord on any vestigial Windows laptops they have been “forced” to carry around to do anything other than reading emails. I also know a lot of road warriors who may view the new apps with a mix of joy and trepidation, as it will conceivably allow for more effective work-related use of their iPad on those cramped, coach-fare flights. The excuse of “not being able to edit that Word document during the flight because all I have is my iPad” just won’t cut it anymore.
In all seriousness, this also marks a significant change in vision for Microsoft, a company that up until the new CEO’s arrival, had been a company that always put “Windows first”, even when it may have meant losing marketshare, as it has for so long in the iPad space. It’s still too early to tell whether this change in corporate values will lead to other transformations and products for other platforms (Office for Android anyone?), but this is certainly a step in new direction for the company.
Adobe dared what other software companies have only dabbled in doing: converting their entire, hugely popular software library into a rental-only commodity. Why do software companies aspire to this model? As you might suspect, users of expensive software packages like Adobe’s Creative Suite or Microsoft’s Office products are able to enjoy multiple years of use from the software before reluctantly upgrading, a consumer trend that bodes ill for any software manufacturer bottom line. The solution: make your highly desirable products only available for rent, or in software parlance: “subscription-based”, guaranteeing you a regular income that will make shareholders dance with glee. While this move has angered a large number of Adobe users, the software company was able to pull the plug on ownership because of the virtual stranglehold it has on this particular category of software, especially its flagship products Photoshop, Illustrator and Lightroom, for which there is virtually no competition its users are willing to consider.
What this means for you:
Adobe’s success (or failure) will determine how other companies proceed. Microsoft already has an extensive subscription-based offering of its productivity suite, which can be rented for what most in the business world consider to be a fair price, especially seeing as how critical Office is in daily business, but “rentals” are only a fraction of its overall sales, which still come through more traditional licensing channels. Annual licensing and maintenance has long been an accepted and expected revenue generator on the enterprise side, a means to bolster profits from an ownership model that came from lengthy software development cycles that are growing shorter and shorter every year. Adobe’s justification behind the subscription model maintains that subscribers will be able to enjoy continuous improvement to and expansion of their products. The question remains, however, whether business is ready for applications and platforms that continually change. While new features and improvements are always welcome, the constant change also present bugs, security holes and training challenges that are definitely not covered by the subscription. Where before companies could control the rate at which their critical business software was changed, now they may have to join a race in which the finish line is constantly moved away from the partipants.
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