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Microsoft Office: 4 Changes, Explained

Microsoft maneuvers to keep Office on top, touting data analysis power, tweaking office 365, and more. What do the moves mean to you?

Microsoft Office For iPad: 7 Questions Answered
Microsoft Office For iPad: 7 Questions Answered
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Microsoft Office is the default choice for many people thanks to its ubiquity, and the only serious option for those who need the deepest toolsets; it remains, in short, the productivity standard.

Even so, Office is costly and not available on all popular platforms. Many consumers, mobile-oriented users, and even some businesses have turned to free alternatives such as Google Docs, iWork, and OpenOffice. These options can't match Office's features, but if you're not a power user, why pay for a product when free ones are good enough?

Microsoft has combatted its freebie competition in a variety of ways. Office 365 represents a major shift from standalone licenses to cloud-based subscriptions. The approach allows Microsoft to continually push new features, which has resulted in more collaborative, agile, and data-adept Office products. It also turns customers into potentially perpetual revenue streams, something that can't be said of all those Office 2003 licenses floating around. At the same time, it can lower a company's IT costs due to the cloud's economies of scale. Microsoft's productivity line also includes Office Online, which is its browser-based response to free competitors, and new cross-platform products, most notably Office for iPads.

[Upgrading to the Windows 8.1 operating system? Read Windows 8.1 Update: 8 Tips to Avoid Headaches.]

In the last week, Microsoft has made some strategy and feature announcements that affect many of its Office products and are designed to appeal to everyone from data-crunching enterprise users to casual consumers. Will they give Office a boost? Let us know what you think in the comments section.

1. Office: the "UI for data"?
At an event this week in San Francisco, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella called Office the "UI for data." What does this mean?

Microsoft's Excel and Power BI products can translate abstract rows and columns of data into intuitive visual tools.
Microsoft's Excel and Power BI products can translate abstract rows and columns of data into intuitive visual tools.

Businesses are collecting more data than ever, and as Internet of Things-themed technologies become more common, that data will grow at an exponential rate. Microsoft products can tie together SQL, Azure, Hadoop, and other tools to wrangle the data on the back end, and Nadella sees Office as the user-facing portal through which data is displayed and insights derived. Microsoft reps demonstrated how columns and rows in Excel can be translated into dynamic maps and graphs, sometimes in response to natural language queries. Nadella's message was that data should be accessible and useful to everyone, not just to data scientists, and that Microsoft wants Office to be the vehicle that democratizes the tools.

2. Office 365 Personal goes live.
Announced earlier this year, Office 365 Personal subscriptions are now available. Aimed at individuals, the product entitles the user to Office on one Mac or PC and one Windows-based tablet or iPad. Microsoft has confirmed that native Office apps for Android are in the pipeline, and Office 365 Personal will presumably cover these products as well.

Office 365 Personal has been widely interpreted as an enticement for iPad owners. Office iPad apps offer basic features for free, but to create and edit documents, a 365 subscription is required. 365 Personal subscribers get not only the newest Office software for $6.99 per month or $69.99 annually, but also 20 GB of OneDrive cloud storage. Microsoft still sells Office 365 Home

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Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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4/21/2014 | 5:09:45 PM
Re: MS Office is a dinosaur
"Apache OpenOffice is superior to MS Office."

I think it depends how you define "superior."

I'll conced I don't know OpenOffice as thoroughly as I know Office. I also concede this: Where there's feature parity, OpenOffice might be the superior option. But there isn't feature parity across the board, especially if you're interested in Office 365-specific cloud benefits, as opposed to features within individual apps. And that's to say nothing of Power BI and the whole "UI for data" plan.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
4/21/2014 | 4:55:26 PM
Re: Dumb-down product
"With storage dirt cheap, 64 GB USB stick for less than $25.00, who needs cloud storage??  Why use the CLOUD - so NSA and others can snoop/meta through all your documents?!  Word and Excel on a large screen cell phone or tablet?  No thanks.  If I'm going to do some productive work - it will be on a 102-key keyboard, mouse and a screen to show more than 4x6 cell area.  All the CLOUD hype is just that - hype by storage vendors such as Google, MS and others to make us pay them to store data we want to save."


Personally, I find Office 365 useful. Depending where I'm writing (office, home, train, hotel room, at a conference, etc.) and how mobile I need to be, I use different devices, and Office 365 a great help. But I think your point illustrates Microsoft's challenge.

While I like Office 365, I can appreciatre why some within Microsoft's enormous pool of customers are upset. I think it's easy hyperbolize some of the cloud security risks, but it's still a consideration. And at a more basic level, a lot of people are perfectly happy with regular standalone versions, and they feel (with some merit) that Microsoft is using its pricing and upgrade policies to force them toward subscriptions (though, as mentioned in the article, some benefits come along with that). Microsoft is attempting to execute a large, fundamental change relatively quickly, and it's rocked the boat with some longtime cutomers. Tensions among longtime Windows users get a lot of attention, but some Office customers aren't thrilled either.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
4/21/2014 | 12:51:15 PM
Re: Power vs. Expense
I think "power vs. expense" nicely sums up Microsoft Office vs. competitors. If you need a deep feature set and wide ecosystem, Office boasts clear advantages. Its wide user footprint is also a monumental advantage in the enterprise. But if you value cost, simplicity of use, or other attributes, some of the other options are more than good enough-- which is why some of them have eaten into Office's market share, albeit mostly modestly.
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