Office for iPad heralds brand new cross-platform world for Microsoft

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by RENAY SAN MIGUEL/KING5 News

KING5.com

Posted on March 27, 2014 at 2:05 PM

Yes, Steve Ballmer should have joined Steve Jobs on stage at the Yerba Buena Arts Center on Jan. 27th, 2010, for the unveiling of Apple's iPad. Then-CEO Ballmer should have demonstrated Office for iPad himself, flicking effortlessly through tablet versions of Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations.

The two should have shook hands and shared a bro-hug as the crowd erupted in thunderous applause.

While we're dreaming, that year's Seattle Seahawks win their fourth straight Super Bowl.

In that alternate universe, Microsoft doesn't miss the Mobile Device Express before it leaves the station. But better late than never (see: Seahawks, 2013-14). The Office for iPad unveiled Thursday in San Francisco - Apple's home court, of all places - looks to be a stripped down but elegant version of Redmond's revenue-generating productivity suite.

In introducing the software, new CEO Satya Nadella kept referring to a "cloud-first, mobile-first world." His company had already realized that "Microsoft-first" was not the key to revenue growth before he took over from Ballmer, but you can expect Nadella to fast-forward that strategy.

Many familiar icons from the Office, Excel and PowerPoint desktop apps remain, but the software seems to be optimized for mouse-free tablet use. Without having played with it personally, I don't believe there will be much of a learning curve for those already familiar with Office.

Let's put it this way: if you're already using your iPad at work, and have experience dealing with the virtual keyboard and touch-and-swipe commands using Google Docs or other workplace apps, you're halfway there.

The freemium model for using Office for iPad is also a good move for Microsoft. You can download the software for free and can read and present content. For creating and editing content, however, you must subscribe to the cloud-based Office 365. That's $6.99 a month or $99 a year, which guarantees a steady revenue stream for Redmond. It also introduces customers to OneDrive and other cloud features.

"iPad has the reputation of making you look cool," said a Microsoft product person demonstrating the software. "Now with Excel it can make you look smart too."

It can be argued that Microsoft finally got smart with opening up their key software to other platforms. It can also be argued that the company had no choice, and it may be too late.  

Nadella sort of addressed that from the stage Thursday. "There's no holding back of anything, no trade off," he said. "It's not a competitive reality. That's not what motivates us. What motivates us is the reality of our customers - to make sure we build great experiences that span the digital life and digital work of our customers. That's what you can count on us doing."

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