Tech Talk: New approach with Microsoft Office could eliminate competition

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Brian Boston consults, educates, and supports the efforts of individuals and small businesses using technology through Boston LegacyWorks LLC. He can be reached here.


By Brian Boston

Microsoft’s Office 2013 officially launches on Friday after months of previews and promotions. With launches this year, the company has the developed a version of the product that could conquer its greatest competitor … itself.

Many industry pundits are pointing to Google Apps or Google Drive as Office’s prime competitor. However, the biggest thorns in Microsoft’s side leading up to the release of Office 2013 is Office 2010, Office 2007, and Office 2003 for Windows (or Office 2011, Office 2008, or Office 2004 for the Mac), the versions you and I all use … and our desire to hold on to them.

The Paradox of Progress
We like the idea of progress; that new ideas and ways to do things will stimulate creativity, business, and prosperity. On the other hand, the changes that come with progress often bring chaos and a sense of instability. So we hang on to anchors and try to ride it out the best we can. Most people develop a enough expertise to get by, whether its laundry or letter writing. The hope is that the tools we use to do these things won’t evolve enough to disrupt our daily progress on other fronts and require our attention.

Microsoft certainly saw this when it released Office 2007, eliminating menus for what it called a “ribbon-based” user interface. While the new interface exposed buried features and encouraged fuller use of the Office programs, many users clung to Office 2003’s menu system and the time they had invested in it. Today, over 1 out of every 10 Office users still use the ten-year-old version.

Subscribing to a New Model
The game changer for our reluctance to upgrade is the focus on its new online subscription version, Office 365 Home Premium. Instead of paying larger amounts every few years for a major upgrade, Microsoft would prefer an annual subscription of $99/year for Home Premium, covering 5 PC or Mac computers. It gives them a regular income source, provides you with a continually improved version of Office for multiple systems without the disruption of a major upgrade, and helps eliminate the competition with previous versions of its software.

The idea is not new. It’s been used for a few years both by Microsoft and other software makers with large and small businesses as a way to encourage stability on both sides. Businesses like regular subscriptions for which they can budget and software makers appreciate regular cash flow compared to the boom and bust of major software releases. While certain online software makers have used consumer subscriptions (anti-virus makers as an example), this is the first major manufacturer to do so.

A Future without Anchors?
Microsoft isn’t totally forsaking the traditional software paths. It will still offer Office 2013 in stores. With 90% of the market using Microsoft Office, it can’t afford to ignore regular retail channels right now. However, it’s possible that the disk-based version of Office 2013 could be our last anchor in the continuum of Microsoft Office … and its last major competitor.



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