Microsoft's Office for Android and iPhone applications now give users a free mobile Office experience but there are several caveats around enterprise use and licensing.
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Microsoft continued the transformation of Office this week with several cross-platform product introductions, including Word, Excel and PowerPoint iPhone applications, a preview of Office for Android tablet applications due out next year, and updates to the Office for iPad applications introduced last spring.
Consumers using Office applications on iPhone, iPad and Android devices no longer need a subscription to create and edit Office documents. When Office for iPad was released earlier this year, it came with the catch that nonsubscribers could only view Office documents and required an Office 365 subscription to create and edit content.
Michael OhFounder, Tech Superpowers
However, the fine print in the licensing for the free iOS Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps tells a different story for enterprises. Each state the apps may be used to “create, edit or save documents for non-commercial purposes.”
Because of that, very little has changed with Office from an enterprise perspective before and after the iPhone and Android application unveiling, said Wes Miller, research vice president with Directions on Microsoft, an independent analysis firm in Kirkland, Wash.
To use Office mobile apps for commercial purposes, organizations still need a commercial Office 365 Pro Plus subscription at $12 per user per month. The full capabilities of Office on iPhone, iPad and Android will still only be available with an Office 365 subscription, including advanced editing and collaboration features not available in the free applications.
The licensing issue for the new mobile applications is something IT must deal with going forward, said Miller, who also wrote a blog post on this week's changes. It won't be easy for IT to restrict unlicensed use of the applications in a work setting, or keep corporate data out of an easy-to-connect storage app such as Dropbox.
"The easiest way for an organization to be covered is to have every user that needs access have an Office 365 subscription that includes Office 365 Pro Plus," Miller said. "That's a shift from where the majority of organizations are today."
What Microsoft is giving away to customers could be an entry ramp into its broader cloud-based services portfolio, including Office 365 and the Enterprise Mobility Suite, said Jack Gold, analyst with J. Gold Associates in Northborough, Mass.
"You're going to get some basic functionality, it's not going to do everything you can do on a desktop," Gold said. "It will be enough to do casual editing, and if you want to upgrade, you can do that."
Microsoft makes cross-platform inroads
Even with the enterprise caveats, offering its productivity suite on iPhones and Android devices is yet another way for Microsoft to gain, and retain, Office users. This comes on the heels of recent Office partnerships with Dropbox and Box.
"This is [new CEO Satya] Nadella's Microsoft," Gold said. "This is a completely new version of Microsoft and it's moving much quicker than I thought it would."
Microsoft is willing to open up its products to work with other vendors in an IT environment that's becoming more vendor-agnostic, said Michael Oh, founder of Tech Superpowers, an IT managed service provider and Apple reseller based in Boston.
"If [Microsoft] closes off their systems to the degree that they have in the past, it's a little bit like Cadillac," Oh said. "You're going to have a really strong fan base, but give it another 20 years and most of those people aren't making the decisions anymore."
Tech Superpowers hasn't seen a widespread adoption of Office for iPad amongst its customers. That could have been due to the restrictions on editing and content creation once users learned more details, Oh said.
Functionality of Office apps on an iPhone may have been an issue in the past due to screen size, but that may no longer be the case thanks to the larger iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.
Customers can sign up for the Office for Android preview here. Touch-optimized Office applications for the upcoming Windows 10 operating system are "in the works" with more details to be shared "soon," Microsoft said.