Microsoft scraps 'Windows-first' practice, puts Office on iPad before Surface

New CEO Satya Nadella comes out swinging on 'cloud first, mobile first' strategy

As expected, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella today hosted a press conference where the company unveiled Office for iPad, breaking with its past practice of protecting Windows by first launching software on its own operating system.

Satya Nadella
CEO Satya Nadella expounded on Microsoft's 'cloud first, mobile first' strategy today as his company unveiled Office for iPad as proof of its new platform-agnosticism.

Three all-touch core apps -- Word, Excel and PowerPoint -- have been seeded to Apple's App Store and are available now.

The sales model for the new apps is different than past Microsoft efforts. The Office apps can be used by anyone free of charge to view documents and present slideshows. But to create new content or documents, or edit existing ones, customers must have an active subscription to Office 365.

Microsoft labeled it a "freemium" business model, the term used for free apps that generate revenue by in-app purchases.

Today's announcement put an end to years of speculation about whether, and if so when, the company would trash its strategy of linking the suite with Windows in an effort to bolster the latter's chances on tablets. It also reversed the path that ex-CEO Steve Ballmer laid out last October, when for the first time he acknowledged an edition for the iPad but said it would appear only after a true touch-enabled version had launched for Windows tablets.

It also marked the first time in memory that Microsoft dealt a major product to an OS rival before it launched it on Windows.

"Microsoft is giving users what they want," Carolina Milanesi, strategic insight director of Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, said in an interview, referring to long-made customer demands that they be able to run Office on any of the devices they owned, even those running a Windows rival OS. "The connection to Office 365 was also interesting in that this puts users within Microsoft's ecosystem at some point."

Prior to today, Microsoft had released minimalist editions of Office, dubbed "Office Mobile," for the iPhone and Android smartphones in June and July 2013, respectively. Originally, the iPhone and Android Office Mobile apps required an Office 365 subscription; as of today, they were turned into free apps for home use, although an Office 365 plan is still needed for commercial use.

Talk of Office on the iPad first heated up in December 2011, when the now-defunct The Daily reported Microsoft was working on the suite, and added that the software would be priced at $10 per app. Two months later, the same publication claimed it had seen a prototype and that Office was only weeks from release.

That talk continued, on and off, for more than two years, but Microsoft stuck to its Windows-first strategy. Analysts who dissected Microsoft's moves believed that the company refused to support the iPad in the hope that Office would jumpstart sales of Windows-powered tablets.

Office's tie with Windows had been fiercely debated inside Microsoft, but until today, operating system-first advocates had won out. But slowing sales of Windows PCs -- last year, the personal computer industry contracted by about 10% -- and the continued struggles gaining meaningful ground in tablets pointed out the folly of that strategy, outsiders argued.

Some went so far as to call Windows-first a flop.

Microsoft has long hewed to that strategy: The desktop version of Office has always debuted on Windows, for example, with a refresh for Apple's OS X arriving months or even more than a year later.

Office in iTunes
Microsoft today added free Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps for the iPad to the existing OneNote.
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