Free iWork and the End of the Tyranny of MS Office

I know the world is focused on the new iPhones (5C and 5S) with their cool colors, souped up power, and fingerprint scanner, but I think one of the early (and smaller) announcements during today’s event has more far reaching implications than the devices. Implications that should scare the crap out of the folks in Redmond. Starting with iOS 7 (or sooner?) iWork (and iMovie and iPhoto) will be free on iOS. Free. Get an iPad or iPhone and have an office suite ready to be downloaded. For free. Paired with the free (sure it’s beta now) online suite, if I were Microsoft…well their Office 365 cash cow might be heading for the slaughterhouse.

None of the tech pubs I follow made much of the iWork announcement—The Verge, Mac|Life, The Next Web, TUAW—beyond that it will save people money. TNW did mention that it would boost users for its premium apps, but that’s only part of the story. Microsoft is at a crossroads, a new CEO is coming and the business of software—even at the enterprise level—is pretty challenging. I’ve made my pitch that that there should be free versions of MS Office (since it seemed then we really have little other choice) now [pullquote]I think Microsoft has no choice by to offer a free version of Office or we’ll look back at the fall of 2013 as the moment when Microsoft started to become obsolete[/pullquote].

iWork for iOS the cure for MS Office addiction

I see iOS devices as Apple’s gateway drug to attract people to buy a Mac. Lots of people love iPhones and iPads and after a while it starts to make sense to just replace an aging PC with a Mac instead. So, if you have an iPad and start using Pages and Keynote (“Hey look I can open, edit, and email this Word document…Wow these Keynote presentations look cooler than PowerPoint…”), wouldn’t you be interested or even primed to use iWork online (or if you have a Mac switch to iWork on the desktop)? Once you start using iWork, it’s not going to be long before you wonder why you bother with MS Office at all (except, of course on the PC, where I doubt there will ever be iWork as a desktop app). This makes iWork for iOS the thin edge of the wedge for getting people away from MS Office on the desktop.

iWork for OS X the nail in MS Office’s coffin

Now, what if and—I don’t think this is a stretch—in a month or two when Apple announces that OS 10.9 Mavericks we learn that it will also come with iWork for free? We know from WWDC that iWork is getting more attention now, so a new iWork for free when you buy Mavericks would make smart sense. Buy a Mac, start it up and you have everything you need right off the bat to work. Nothing extra needed. Now where’s MS Office? [pullquote]Where’s the incentive to pay for another year of Office 365 or upgrade from an older version of Office (if you have a Mac)? None. Zip. Zilch.[/pullquote]

Yes, the world is dominated by Windows. Yes, iWork is only available on iOS and OS X, and that will be a selling point down the line, but here’s the thing, a few nudges like iWork for free that are all it takes for people to start to look at OpenOffice, LibreOffice, and Google Docs as serious alternatives to MS Offfice. Serious and free alternatives to MS Office. Microsoft dominated the OS world because they got a quick foothold in the business world and from there MS Office (which was really born on the Mac) just took over. Now, the OS you use means less and less. Web-based tools don’t really care if you’re using a Mac, PC, or Linux. The trend towards simpler writing tools is making us less dependent on tools like Word.

I’m betting that iWork for iOS going free is going to start a lot of people wondering why they pay for office apps on their devices and machines. Then if iWork for OS X becomes free as well, then people aren’t just going to wonder why they are paying for office apps—they might just stop paying for them altogether. Then Microsoft as little choice by to match Apple and set MS Office free as well. Checkmate Apple.


  1. says

    Tris, before I offer my opinion, I’ll give full disclosure – as you’ll recall, I’m part of the Microsoft ecosystem, and I sell and implement Microsoft Office 365 solutions. I have bias here, but I also have a great degree of knowledge to share.

    First and foremost, you should remember that there have been free alternatives to MS-Office available for the past decade and a half. Started with StarOffice (Sun Microsystems on Java), and then developed into the current Google Apps. Apple has always included some type of reader/simple editor as far as I can tell, but you’d know better than me.

    My belief is that Microsoft Office continues its 90+% global market share of Productivity Software because they set the standards that all other companies adhere to. And they do a great job of it. Others have attempted to disrupt this market, but they have failed. Part of the reason for this is because the core Office software (Word/Excel/Outlook) has become almost as ubiquitous as a web browser, and Microsoft has done a better job than any other company on Earth of making sure that Office works with other specialized business applications (ERP, CRM, etc) that people need to use in order to put food on the table of their children.

    Another thing that they have started to do over the past 5 years, specifically under Ballmer’s direction, is to ensure that as soon as a computing platform (mobile, tablet, laptop, desktop, etc) hits a growth rate that will make it an addressable market, then they ensure that they are producing software for that platform. Most people don’t know that they launched Lync (their Enterprise communications tool in Office) on iPhone and iPad before they launched it on Windows Phone or Surface RT. This was specifically to make sure that they gave it to the largest installation platform first.

    Now, Google also makes some great software that works across almost all devices, with highest performance and features coming when paired with Chrome. They are again playing “Me Too” on the office software side and, with their search engine focus, they have problems gaining trust from companies. However, I’d put Google Apps way ahead of Apple in terms of Productivity Software potential.

    Microsoft Office365 works with almost all devices (minus our floundering Waterloo friends, I believe). I personally use Office 365 on Windows 7, Windows 8, and 2 different iOS6.x devices. I think that its phenomenal software, and you would have a tough time convincing me to use something else. When I move from iPhone to Android, my office documents are still going with me. I have not tried Google Apps enough to offer fair evaluation of the experience of using their software across devices.

    The reason why Apple is not able to effectively compete in this part of the software market is that they are always attempting to lock a customer into their application ecosystem that works only on their OS and devices. In my opinion, it’s only when Apple can maintain control of the financial transactions of content delivery (apps/music/books/storage via iTunes and iCloud) when they will start to produce software for other operating systems, such as Windows. And when they sense that a competitive software product could make it easy for consumers to switch to another computing platform, they attempt to block it from having the full functionality of their software. For an example of this, do some search engine digging as to why we can’t buy an e-Book from Amazon using the Kindle Reader app on an iPhone. You have to instead use a browser to buy the ebook, and then push it to the Kindle App (Somebody named Steve didn’t want to let somebody named Jeff conduct financial transactions on Steve’s little baby).

    I think that you’ll find that when people use devices other than Apple, they tend to want to see commercial distribution of the software across OS and platforms. But, if they want to use 100% Apple, then they can comfortably stay within the Apple application ecosystem. The challenge here is that Apple is the most expensive platform, and at some point business owners look at that and say that one single, over-priced platform is not for them. And with that, Microsoft Office maintains its market share dominance.



    You can find me on Twitter @JonHoltby or email [email protected].

    • says

      Those are great points Jon. And I think the ubiquity of Office formats is a testament to how well Microsoft got the world to adopt their tools. But…I think in this case there is a difference between free tools just being available versus free tools being offered to you (or provided) automatically. That is the key difference for me. That, I think, is the tipping point that Microsoft should be wary of.

  2. Mahesh says

    A little more information about Star Office.

    It was first developed by Star Division, which was then bought by Sun Microsystems in 1999.

    I remember using StarOffice 5, as worked (sometimes) on both my Linux and Windows partitions.

    I also used NeoOffice on OS X as it worked better than any of the other OpenOffice forks.


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