Microsoft exec scoffs at talk that Apple's free iWork threatens Office

Frank Shaw, head of corporate communications, counters media reports, calls iWork suite 'an afterthought' and 'struggling'

Microsoft's head of communications took shots today at Apple's decision to give away its iWork productivity software, calling the move "an attempt to catch up."

In a post to the Official Microsoft Blog, Frank Shaw countered what he said was misguided at best, reality-bending at worst, coverage by the media and blogosphere on Apple's giving away iWork to new Mac and iOS device buyers.

Apple made that announcement Tuesday during an 80-minute event in San Francisco, where executives touted new iPads, lower-priced MacBook Pros, and declared OS X Mavericks and the iWork apps would be free to segments of the Mac installed base.

"Seems like the RDF (Reality Distortion Field) typically generated by an Apple event has extended beyond Cupertino," Shaw wrote. "So let me try to clear some things up."

Shaw took exception to the conclusions by some pundits that the Apple maneuver was a shot at rival Microsoft, and that by throwing in iWork with a new Mac, iPhone or iPad, Microsoft's Office franchise, the Redmond, Wash. company's business model and its tablet strategy were threatened.

"When I see Apple drop the price of their struggling, lightweight productivity apps, I don't see a shot across our bow, I see an attempt to play catch-up," said Shaw.

But Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, saw it as exactly that: A shot. "I don't know any other way to interpret that than to say Apple was going after Microsoft," said Moorhead.

The "that" Moorhead was talking about was the slide shown behind Eddy Cue, Apple's head of Internet software and services, yesterday just before Cue announced that iWork would be free for new device buyers. That slide displayed the logo of Office 365, Microsoft's software subscription service, and cited $99 as the annual price for Home Premium, the consumer SKU.

Shaw has lashed out at the press over reports or at bloggers over their interpretations of news before. In May, he decried negative coverage of Windows 8 in general, and the update then code-named Windows "Blue" in particular. He took special exception to news and news analysis stories that compared Blue's restoration of the Start button to Coca-Cola's "New Coke" disaster of nearly thirty years ago.

Windows Blue was later named Windows 8.1, the free update that launched last week.

More recently, Shaw called out the media over how it handled news of current Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's retirement announcement two months ago.

Unlike in May, today Shaw did not cite examples. But there were plenty to be had, ranging from the measured "Apple Drives Consumer Software Prices to Zero" on Techopinions to the over-the-top headline of "Apple's Plan to Destroy Microsoft" on The Street. Computerworld's blogger, Preston Gralla, also weighed in with his "Why Microsoft is Apple's new whipping boy."

Shaw did not call out the most obvious example, that of Apple CEO Tim Cook, who took his own swings at Microsoft yesterday at the iPad launch event.

"Our competition is different," said Cook. "They're confused. They chased after netbooks. Now they're trying to make tablets into PCs, and PCs into tablets. Who knows what they will do next? I can't answer that question. But what I can tell you is that we have a very clear direction and a very ambitious goal. We still believe deeply in this category [of traditional notebooks] and we're not slowing down on our innovation."

Although Cook did not breathe the name "Microsoft," he was clearly aiming his comments at the rival, in particular its Surface tablet strategy.

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Them's fightin' words! That's how one analyst viewed the slide Apple put on the screen during its Tuesday announcement that its iWork suite would be free to new Mac and iPad buyers. (Image: Apple.)
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