Author(s): Peter Bryer
On Monday, Microsoft announced that its Office suite of apps will be pre-installed on Android tablets from Dell, Samsung and another 10 hardware makers including many small, regional brands. This isn't so much breaking news as an expansion of previous partnerships announced earlier this year — a version of Office had already been available as a free download for Android, iPads and iPhones.
Microsoft's provision of an out-of-the-box experience is reinforcing its Office apps as the default for productivity programmes and ensures exposure on an operating system that's gaining ground in many markets.
Microsoft Office is still considered the premiere suite, but the company recognises that future generations are being introduced to a new concept of free, cloud-based apps that are good enough for most projects. More schools and universities are "going Google", relying on Google's free software-as-a-service suite, and enterprises — which pay for applications — tend to follow the experience of its incoming workforce.
This isn't just an issue of software, but also of shifting hardware forms and changing market shares.
Some numbers — that have been happily echoed by Google — in the past few years show that a growing number of schools across the globe are switching their students to Chromebooks, with obligatory exposure to Google Docs. Chromebooks are marketed as nearly maintenance-free and lower in cost than laptops and some tablets.
Apple has also been gaining share in the laptop market, providing owners with its Apple Productivity apps free of charge. The same suite is also available to iOS users, enabling them to view and edit documents while moving from device to device.
CCS Insight has termed this sort of fluidity a "continuum of experiences", and we note that the divisions between device forms are muddying (see Daily Insight: Blurred Lines). It's becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between a product officially designated as a laptop and a tablet with a compact keyboard and mouse. Microsoft's new partnerships will give it gaining clout in the tablet milieu. For many younger users, a computer is a computer.
CCS Insight believes that preventing the commoditisation of software is Microsoft's definitive goal. The terms "Office", "Docs" and even "Word" have become generic, and more users are now relying on a combination of apps and services for productivity and collaboration.
Microsoft Office dominates in feature count, application richness and user numbers. But things aren't as sticky as they once were, and market share leads can change quickly. We believe that Microsoft has wisely chosen to address shifting behaviour patterns and prevent mindshare erosion of its valuable Office brand. The company has taken a platform-agnostic approach with its productivity apps going back to the 1980s, and the company continues to follow the volumes. This certainly isn't the final word on the Office arms race, but Microsoft has raised the bar for competitors.