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Microsoft likely to leash iOS Office apps to Office 365, say analysts

November 12, 2012 06:05 AM ET

And if Office Mobile does require Office 365 -- if the apps aren't available for purchase separately -- Microsoft creates a huge incentive for users to subscribe, not only boosting sales but also attracting customers who otherwise might never have considered the rental model or even the new Office.

Ullman was optimistic that consumers would, if not in the short term, then in the long, shift to the Office 365 model.

"It's how consumers are consuming software now," he argued. "They're used to paying a subscription license, especially younger consumers, and they're moving away from paying up front for a perpetual license. They're using software, and if it doesn't work for them, they move to something new. I see [Office 365] as Microsoft's way of being part of this."

Ullman was adamant that the rental model was attractive to younger users. "The whole concept of upgrading is foreign to them," said Ullman. "Younger users don't even know what an upgrade is, since most of their software is updated all the time."

Consumers are, however, a small part of Microsoft's Office business, which last quarter brought in over $5 billion in revenue, or more than 34% of the company's total for the period. Microsoft makes most of that not from sales of Office to consumers, but on sales and volume licensing contracts to enterprises.

Linking iOS and Android Office apps to Office 365 also is a smart move for Microsoft in the enterprise, Ullman said, what with businesses shifting to a "bring-your-own-device" (BYOD) concept, where employees decide what hardware they'll use for work.

"Companies are adapting to younger workers -- as well as those in the C-level suites -- coming into the workforce with their own devices," Ullman said. "And Microsoft must adapt their licensing to that."

As Ullman sees it, Microsoft has two options with iOS and Android Office apps. It can either link the apps with Office 365, or add "usage rights" to the mobile software as part of Software Assurance.

The former would "push Office 365 into the enterprise as a licensing solution," said Ullman, while the latter would "be a way of keeping customers on Software Assurance."

Either would be what he called a "smart move," but Ullman wasn't ready to bet on one over the other. "I'm not sure which way they'll go," he said.

Microsoft has already done something similar with its Office RT, the version of the suite it bundles with Windows RT, the tablet-oriented spin-off of Windows 8. Although Office RT is licensed for personal use, to run it as a business tool, it must be linked to an Office 365 subscription or an existing commercial license of Office 2013.

Microsoft will introduce iOS and Android apps for Office; that's virtually a given, what with its previous comments that Office will work across multiple mobile platforms, including its own Windows Phone 8, as well as iOS and Android. Most have interpreted that to mean native apps on its rivals' operating systems, not the Web-based apps now available.

"This is a logical move," said Ullman. "They see how the currents are moving [toward mobile], and they're trying to regain the trust and enthusiasm of users, especially of the younger generation of users. Microsoft sees the BYOD movement, too, and what they're doing behind the scenes is to capture additional revenue from that."

But while he's certain Microsoft would hitch iOS and Android Office apps in some way to money-making licensing deals, Ullman had no idea when or in what fashion. "When it's going to happen, or how, that's just speculation at this point," he said.

Microsoft has released Office 2013 to volume licensing customers, but it has not disclosed a retail release date. Most expect that to occur in late January or early February 2013, when the company will also probably roll out its new Office 365 plans.

Miller, of Directions on Microsoft, said it was possible Microsoft will reveal more of its Office plans this week at its SharePoint Conference, which starts today in Las Vegas and runs through Thursday.

"Otherwise, it might not be until next year," said Miller.

Microsoft will webcast the conference's keynote today starting at 8:30 a.m. PT, or 11:30 a.m. ET.

covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at Twitter @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed Keizer RSS. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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