Google wages war on Microsoft's Office with free iOS, Android apps

Quickoffice is now free to anyone with a Google account; but Microsoft execs promise Office will come to non-Windows platforms

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"They're hoping that traction in the consumer side will somehow sway enterprises," said Hilwa. "There's a little bit of truth to that."

But he also said that Microsoft's headlock on the enterprise productivity market is safe for the foreseeable future. "All the functionality that Office has accrued in a company, whether that's templates or employees' invested skills, makes it very hard to switch. So Microsoft has some time [to offer Office on others' tablets] because of Office's stickiness in the enterprise.

"Meanwhile, Google and Apple are taking advantage of the absence of Office as much as they can," Hilwa said.

Other experts have downplayed the idea that Office can be unseated from its catbird seat in the enterprise, including Wes Miller of Directions on Microsoft, who on his personal Getwired blog was blunt. "Nothing will ever replace Microsoft Office -- at least for the time being for a huge chunk of business users," Miller wrote.

Like Hilwa, Miller saw rivals' opportunities primarily among consumers. "The users who have likely had the most 'success' (using the term loosely) with replacing Office are likely individual users ... who are simply using Office documents as containers, not using any Office-specific features [in] much depth, and can likely survive just using the document export features in Google Docs, iWork, or any other Web/mobile productivity suite not from Microsoft."

Hilwa added small businesses to the groups that can abandon Office for alternatives. "Small companies tend to behave like consumers," he said.

"There's some exposure for Microsoft here," Hilwa continued. "Microsoft is playing a game of brinksmanship by betting that Office is more valuable as a push start for Windows. Whether it plays out [that it loses customers by withholding Office on the iPad] is, of course, another story."

On Thursday, Microsoft dropped several hints that it's aware of the Office-on-iPad argument and the risk it faces by not taking the suite to the iOS and Android tablet market, and that it would make that move.

During the company's Financial Analysts Meeting, a half-day confab Thursday on its campus, several executives, including CEO Steve Ballmer, made that clear.

"We are working on touch-first versions for our core apps in the Office suite, Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and we will bring these apps to Windows devices, and also to other devices in ways that meets our customers' needs, and the customer value of those experiences, and in ways that economically make sense for Microsoft, and at a proper timetable," said Qi Lu, who heads Microsoft's Applications and Services Group, which includes Office.

Ballmer wasn't as specific in referring to Office directly, but he was even more adamant about Microsoft taking its services -- which include Office 365 -- to other platforms. "Services have to find their way onto non-Microsoft devices, and we certainly have to support that without religious bias," Ballmer said during the Q&A session with Wall Street analysts yesterday.

None of the Microsoft executives spelled out a timetable for bringing Office on iPads and Android tablets, however.

"They shouldn't be sitting on their laurels," Hilwa warned.

Quickoffice can be downloaded free of charge from Google Play, the official Android app marketplace, and Apple's App Store.

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

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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