Microsoft and Office – Need to Stay Relevant

Lots of talk has been going on in since 27th March about Microsoft and one of its most relevant services, MS Office. I have been an active user of Microsoft Office ever since I landed up in a financial research job. I extensively used Office 2003 and 2007, both at local desktop and Citrix environments, for over seven years. I personally use iPad and a Windows 8 Ultrabook outside my corporate job. On my Ultrabook, Office 2013 has been running ever since its launch. I installed the subscription-less Office apps on my iPad moments of after launch. During the launch event, Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella called Office suite as ‘the real productive application’ on mobile devices. As most of us know, the Office suite requires a $99 per annum subscription to create and edit documents on iPad, while it’s completely free on iPhone and Android phones.

Real productivity through Microsoft Office?
Generating high quality reports may not always be achieved through any other software suites but Office. Creating basic graphs, writing an article with a few pictures or creating presentation with a few animations do not constitute “real productivity”. I would like to share my experience with MS Office. PowerPoint is commonly used for marketing presentations and pitchbooks. They need high quality gradients and shading, automated chart updates through Visual Basic, handling slide master and themes, creating multi dimensional diagrams with animations and so on. All the listed features are equally important for a start-up which wants to pitch its products! But a college student may not need those and hence iPad version could help him/her. If Adobe suite is underpowered on a tablet touch screen so is PowerPoint (MS Office itself for that matter).

I personally worked on high end Word documents that were used as brochures and investor reports. A 70 plus page word document with ‘Fields and Custom Properties’, needed regular updates. Index page that had to be dynamically updated. Various tables and charts needed to be periodically updated based on key words for which the data was coming from multiple spreadsheets. Excel to Word VBA was inevitable. Literally every page had different size tables, and mostly they overflowed and got misplaced on different screen dimensions. Every content had to be associated with appropriate properties to keep them tight. After the completion of updated report, the whole document had to be split to two/three page reports ‘based on contents’ through a Visual Basic program. Similarly I worked on multiple two-pagers that had to be updated through VBA and merged into a single document with updated index page.

Of all, Microsoft has provided this world with Excel and I consider that to be one of the most scale-able application suite. We used that to create simple charts to bubble graphs. Excel can handle heavy data, update thousands of formulae, update data from various sources such as web and external databases. I used all of these functions day in and day out for over five years. Pivot table and pivot charts are widely used in big data handling. Excel can collate hundreds of worksheets/workbooks, link to different formulae and showcase just a couple of tabs and all of such activities can be automated through VBA macros. Excel also offers powerful analysis through built-in functions for pro statisticians, solver and trend analysis are couple of awesome functions I can recall (while writing this). In excel, one can build an automation tool that allows to select multiple data sources in the web UI, assign analysis and link it to an Excel template that can in turn give us a final spreadsheet with graphs, relevant data and corresponding calculation in less than a minute’s time! Yeah, that is ‘some productivity’. All the above three software apps give us printing optimisation, and as per my experience Office on Windows has been peerless. If you are running a huge data oriented business, like financial analysis that requires powerful representation, MS Office is worth every penny.

MS Office on iPad
Just after launching the apps, Microsoft CEO tweeted, ‘@satyanadella: Thanks @tim_cook, excited to bring the magic of @Office to iPad customers #cloud4mobile’. Very soon the apps topped the chart on App Store and he tweeted, ‘@satyanadella: looks like it’s a productive Friday for #iPad owners!‘. My question is, without most of the above mentioned features, what is so magical about Office on iPad? How many households and individuals need the above (and many more) features first up? I cannot imagine myself doing 10% of what I showcased above at home or even if I start a small venture. Cars cannot fly! People who want to do Office oriented work need the desktop, and tablets can only help presenting them on the go. Does that mean tablets cannot produce a thing? Answer is no. Tablets can produce things in a different way. Try a few iOS apps like Roambi Analytics, FactSet, Bloomberg Now, Editorial, iWork, hopTo, Inkpad, Oracle Business Intelligence, Lucid Charts, etc. to get a glimpse of what tablet computing can offer.

The Cloud agenda
App Store may have seen lots of downloads for Office, but in my opinion, it’s just that people wanted to try out. Perosnally, I have a lots of old documents on One Drive and I can simply open and read. I have a handy alternative in the form of hopTo that lets me edit Office docs on various cloud sync such as Dropbox and Box, and also on a PC, but Microsoft offers access to only One Drive files. Microsoft may open up in future but they already lost valuable time. As of this writing, Office on iPad cannot even print. If I already have a desktop, I can create powerful documents and reports through MS Office. For minimum editing option, if you’re asking $99 per year, sorry I simply won’t buy, ever! Note the reality: enterprise customers don’t upgrade often, and hence Windows XP, Office 2003 are still up and running! Even most business owners and enterprises may not shell out so much money just to be able to edit on iPad. Software as a Service is clearly the way to go, but not many would be looking to hook up with Microsoft Office with One Drive alone. Even if Microsoft has to push that, they simply do not afford to stop stand alone application suite sales. Microsoft has too many enemies, especially Google. They cannot get their strategic partnerships right. Check out the quality of Google services on Windows Phone. If cloud service is the agenda, they need to sync well across devices so also across platforms. Microsoft has made the Office on Mobile free with editing capabilities. On the other hand, Apple gives away both iOS and OS X free along with their own iWork and iLife suite free as well. Do I dare say, no one will buy? Not at all! A few startups may buy the subscription because it’s a nice to have an option to edit on iPad. To me, this move from Microsoft indicates a few things: pressure of making itself countable in modern computing era, less iPad bashing ads, and unreliable Surface sales.