Readers of this space may remember when I predicted that Microsoft would be forced to give away its phenomenally popular “Office” software to compete with various options in the marketplace.
(Of course, at the time I was wearing my shirt that proclaimed, “I believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and Chicago’s Sports Teams!” at the time.)
Well, of all of my predictions, I got this one spot-on.
Starting with Office 2010 this summer, you will be tripping over free versions.
Microsoft really didn’t have any choice. Google’s free office suite that anyone can use over the web (so-called “cloud computing” because you don’t actually download the software but you use the software in the online “cloud”) is just one of such packages hitting the market.
Well, Microsoft certainly is late to the cloud computing game but they are taking a big gamble this summer with the release of Office 2010. A fully functional version of Office will be released on the web for anyone to use, complete with a button that will launch the app on your locally installed version of Office on your hard drive if you need to.
Don’t have Office installed? Oh, you will.
Microsoft plans to flood the market with “Office Starter,” a stripped-down version of Word and Excel that will be pre-installed in tons of new computers starting this summer.
(It will replace Microsoft Works, which is being thrown out with the bathwater at the launch of Office 2010. I loved Works for basic stuff and will kind of miss it but that is beside the point.)
That would be interesting enough, but in most cases Microsoft plans to hide the full Office suite on the hard drive ready to be unlocked whenever you need PowerPoint, Access or some other part of the suite. You can simply type in a credit card number and have the parts you need. Or at a bajillion retailers you can buy any number of Office activation cards that sort of look like prepaid phone cards. You buy the card, take it home, enter the code and unlock your software.
So what will the impact be? Immediately there will be an interesting dynamic at work as consumers and businesses try out the online product. Some of them will be current Google suite users, who may end up switching if Microsoft can make its product easy enough to use. Ease of use is critical.
What makes this idea dangerous is that Office is the cash cow of Microsoft. What happens to the company’s bottom line when it starts to give away its most profitable product?
It will be bad news for the company’s profitability if a lot of companies find their lower-level employees can “make do” with the online product and they can reduce their licensing needs for the full suite.
After all, how many receptionists actually use PowerPoint or Access? How many customer service people or warehouse guys?
Many companies will be able to eliminate full Office seats.
So these are interesting times and this summer should be fascinating in the home, in small businesses and in large corporations.
James Derk is owner of CyberDads, a computer repair firm and a tech columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.