Microsoft delivered an enterprise mobility management suite for IT administrators and finally launched the long-awaited Office for iPad app this week for free -- but there's a catch.
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Users can view Office documents in the free app, but need to have an Office 365 subscription to create and edit documents.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella revealed the new offerings in his first product launch as the company's new leader this week. He also reiterated Microsoft's commitment to the company's mobile and cloud strategies. The new products illustrate the company's promise to support multiple platforms in mobile and cloud, a message it continues to plug.
"You're seeing a distinct change in the way Microsoft is approaching computing," said Brian Katz, director of mobile innovation for a large pharmaceutical organization based in New Jersey. "Microsoft can't just tie itself to Windows anymore. This is the difference between the old and the new."
Enterprise Mobility Suite features
Microsoft's Enterprise Mobility Suite brings together disparate technologies into one offering for IT professionals, including Windows Intune, Azure Active Directory Premium, and Azure Rights Management Services. The suite retails for $7.50 per user, per month with an annual commitment.
Microsoft touted its enterprise mobility suite as a one-stop place for IT to manage devices, identity and access management.
"If you don't have an EMM suite, Microsoft made a case to use theirs if you're a Microsoft customer," Katz said.
Microsoft's EMM strategy first began to take shape last fall when it rebranded its IT mobile management tools and updated Windows Intune.
“This is a strategic [move] and the beginning of Microsoft's architecture for IT management of corporate data," said Chris Hazelton, mobile and wireless research director for 451 Research, a market research firm based in New York.
Office for iPad
The long-awaited Office for iPad app, available now, includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, each downloadable from the Apple Inc. App Store. The free app provides read only capabilities, and full functionality requires an Office 365 subscription. The mid-size business version lists for $15 per user, per month.
"[Office for iPad] is going to make a logical companion app for those who already have an investment in Office,” said Wes Miller, research vice president at Directions on Microsoft, an IT consulting firm based in Kirkland, Wash. “[Microsoft has] a range of technology and the more you invest in Microsoft products and services the more [they] will make that available to you."
Tying the Office for iPad suite to Office 365 could boost sales for Microsoft's cloud subscription service, with the new apps serving as bait for organizations that are not yet subscribers.
"The investment is for the end user to download the [apps] and play with them," said Hazelton. "If they see there are sufficient features they want, then IT could face pressure to support [Office 365]."
However, the tie to Office 365 may also be an obstacle for organizations not ready to support the cloud-based service.
"It's great if you're an Office 365 [user,]" said Imran Shaikh, program director of IT for Vista Equity Partners, San Francisco. "If you're not, [you won't] get much value."
Microsoft said it has one billion Office users but has declined to provide a figure on the number of licenses for Office 365.
Office for iPad app alternatives
Third party alternatives to Office such as CloudOn, Google Apps, QuickOffice, Apple's iWorks suite, and Haiku Deck, have filled the gap, and despite the official Office app release, end users will continue to rely on them.
Irene Yam, director of marketing for Workspot Inc., based in Menlo Park, Calif., has been using Haiku Deck and said she will stick with the application.
"If corporate says I need to use PowerPoint, then I don't have a choice, but IT is more open" and willing to support alternative offerings, she added.
In addition to the EMM suite and Office for iPad, Microsoft last week said it would bring OneNote to the Macintosh platform and make it free on all devices. The product clearly competes with other highly successful products such as EverNote, which built its business by becoming a note taking application for a variety of mobile platforms ranging from iOS, Windows 8 and Android.