Microsoft Office strategy takes the wind out of competitors' sails

Office 10
Office 10

In the wake of the big media event that unveiled the latest build of the Windows 10 Technical Preview, Microsoft also had some news to share about Office. It revealed that Office 2016 is on track to be released later this year, and Windows 10 will include Office for Windows apps for free. Microsoft now offers so much Office functionality for free that rival tools like Google Docs, Apple iWorks, and LibreOffice seem less appealing.

The Office 365 Team announced in a post on the Office Blogs site that Office "universal" apps on Windows 10 will deliver a touch and mobile-first experience across all Windows 10 devices. The post explains:

"These new Office apps will be pre-installed for free on phones and small tablets running Windows 10, and available to download from the Windows Store for other devices. The Office universal apps will be available with the Windows 10 Technical Preview in the coming weeks and general availability is on track for later this year."

The native Windows 10 apps are just the latest move by Microsoft that makes a lot of Office capability available for free. The Office Online tools have been greatly improved, and Microsoft offers the native mobile version of Office apps for free for both iOS and Android mobile devices. If customers can create, view, and edit Office files from the web, their smartphone or tablet, or their Windows 10 PC for free, they're much less likely to seek out alternatives like Google Docs or LibreOffice.

Don't get me wrong. Google Docs and LibreOffice, as well as other productivity suite alternatives like Apple iWorks apps, are functional solutions. Each is more than capable of creating, viewing, and editing basic documents, and they even include the many of the advanced capabilities that are found in Microsoft Office. However, Microsoft also includes a variety of perks and benefits with Office 365 that make it an enticing option, and subscribing to Office 365 unlocks richer and more advanced capabilities for many of the mobile apps.

Yes, the alternative productivity suites all function similarly to Microsoft Office, so there's no reason someone who knows how to use Word, Excel, or PowerPoint wouldn't be able to figure out how to work in equivalent tools from other vendors. Why bother struggling at all, though, when you can just use the real thing for free?

Fidelity is also a common problem when using alternative productivity tools. No matter which tools you use, all of the popular Office alternatives are capable of saving files in the standard Microsoft Office formats. When those files are opened in the Microsoft Office applications, though, or edited and saved and opened again back in the alternative tools, formatting, fonts, placement of images, and other elements of the file can get lost in translation.

Ultimately, Microsoft Office still dominates the productivity tools arena, especially in corporate environments. All things being equal, people typically prefer to use the same tools at home as they do at work, because those are the tools they're comfortable and familiar with. And as long as people can create, edit, and review Microsoft Office files using actual Microsoft Office apps, demand for office suite alternatives will decline dramatically.

Does your organization use Microsoft Office or an alternative productivity suite? Let us know in the discussion thread below.