Can Microsoft Office Stay Relevant for a Future in the Cloud?

Microsoft_Store_FrontMicrosoft Office has remained the industry standard for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations for many years, an impressive feat. But in terms of meaningful innovation, there hasn’t been a whole lot lately.

Sure, there have been plenty of Office updates (too many, some would say), but they are mainly cosmetic changes and bundles of new “features” that don’t do anything revolutionary.

Many articles have described a culture of dysfunction and limited vision for the future at Microsoft. In a lengthy post on Reddit, for example, a 15-year Microsoft veteran explained that the lack of innovation doesn’t come from the shortcomings of its engineers, but rather structural problems between the Development, Test and Project Management teams, with the latter in charge of Office decisions instead of Development:

Office has never, ever figured out how to integrate with the web. They’ve tried, over and over, but every technology that they have tried has been chosen and pushed by PMs, not by engineers or anyone else who understands how people actually want to use Office these days … For a long time this arrangement “worked”, in the sense that people kept buying Office. But now, the world has shifted to the web, and Office really is not relevant in the web.

But have they started to address these major woes?

It’s clear that the game-changer for Microsoft today is adapting smoothly to the cloud, and under new leadership the company has been making a huge push in that area.

Threatened by the rise of convenient web-based Google Drive back in 2011, Microsoft launched Office 365. This service allows users to create an Office account that syncs across PC applications, the Web, phones and tablets. Initially it was only available as a paid subscription but recently Microsoft decided to unveil free smartphone and tablet apps for Word, PowerPoint and Excel, allowing users to view and edit documents on those devices.

Other features of Office 365 include storage space on OneDrive and Skype credits. There are also a variety of premium business subscriptions including Exchange, SharePoint and Lync.

Microsoft is also well aware that many users are already deeply tied into other cloud services like Dropbox for sharing documents across their devices, so it recently decided to partner with that service to allow users to edit Word, Excel and Powerpoint files directly in their Dropbox apps.

This is interesting since Microsoft’s own OneDrive is a Dropbox competitor, but many analysts have reported that Microsoft’s ultimate goal is to convert as many people as possible to Office 365, and this partnership will help do that:

The size of the Office base is staggering — 1.2 billion users, allegedly — but many are still using older editions of the program that generate little or no revenue for Microsoft. Anything that can nudge those users to Office 365 is likely worth a try.

When it announced that it would make Office apps free for mobile devices, Microsoft declared that “The world is changing.” Such a realization is a long time coming for the company, and perhaps demonstrates that its flagship office suite is well-positioned for the computing world of the future.

What do you think about Microsoft’s prospects moving forward?

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