Microsoft is blasting Office into the cloud. And it wants one billion worldwide users to come along for the ride.
The Redmond, Washington, software giant has company up there. Apple's already offering iTunes addicts its iCloud and annual Music Match subscriptions for $25; Google's vying for cloud clients with Docs, Play, Drive, and Chrome OS for web-based computing and storage; and Dropbox and Box have staked their futures on allowing anyone on any device or mobile platform to access its services and storage. The sooner each can convince you to use their own web-based storage and services, the sooner they'll find a piece of what Gartner estimates will become a $149 billion industry by 2015.
Today, Microsoft staked its claim with the beta release of Office 15, the latest version of the most widely used software program in the world, and it's all about SkyDrive, Microsoft's consumer-facing cloud service, Office vice president PJ Hough tells Fast Company.
Microsoft already offers 7GB worth of cloud storage for free, more than the initial offerings from Apple, Google, and Dropbox. Now those who buy a subscription license for Office, Microsoft will "substantially increase" their storage space on SkyDrive by an additional 20GB of SkyDrive storage to save documents to the cloud. Microsoft hopes that will make it virtually seamless for users of Office—from home consumers to customers in education, government, and the enterprise—to automatically adopt SkyDrive, which is deeply integrated into Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and every other Office applications.
"When you sign into Office, you're effectively signing into SkyDrive," Hough says.
Microsoft plans not only to invite new Office users into the cloud but to push them into SkyDrive once they've arrived. When users save documents in Office—arguably the program's most-used function—they'll soon likely no longer see the typical suggestion to save files to a computer's hard drive. "The default save location will be SkyDrive," Hough says. Even "Recent Documents," the second save location likely to be displayed, will be synced with SkyDrive.
"Your computer is going to be a distant third for pretty much all of the programs," Hough explains. "Stuff on your computer is kind of trapped on that one device. It's just hard for you to co-author with it, or share it, or access it on another device."
Accessibility is another key for Microsoft's cloud offering. While iCloud is designed only for Apple's iOS platform, SkyDrive is already available for both Windows Phone and iOS. (Google Drive, too, is available for iOS as well as Android.) And as Microsoft Office might be coming soon to iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, as has been reported, in addition to being available on Windows-based PCs and mobile devices, the productivity suite could act as a Trojan Horse to co-opting users onto SkyDrive. (That's not to mention the fact that Microsoft offers significantly less expensive price plans compared to any other service, including Dropbox.)
This Trojan Horse strategy is a possibility because the latest version of Office can be accessed via the cloud, from any compatible device. "If you go to a retail store and you buy Office, you're just going to get an activation code," Hough says. "Once you enter your activation code online, you can stream Office to that computer or mobile device."
The typical home subscription license offering will carry 5 PCs and any number of smartphones and tablets. Users can activate a PC or mobile device in the same way one might activate an iTunes library on another computer.
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