Clearly, there is a demand for Microsoft’s own Office apps that let you create documents, spreadsheets and presentations – even among folks who have been using third-party apps on tablets and smartphones.
However, while the Office iPad apps are free to download, you will only get to view documents unless you have an Office 365 subscription – from S$138 for five PCs or Macs, plus up to five tablets – to unlock the apps’ editing and creating features.
In contrast, the iPhone and Android versions of Office, which were released some nine months ago, are free of such limitations. The apps will let you create, edit and view Word, Powerpoint and Excel documents without a fee.
To me, this news had the same effect of Apple announcing triumphantly that songs by The Beatles have arrived in iTunes, because if you were a Beatles fan, you would already have bought their CDs, and ripped them to iTunes.
iPad users who only want to read Word, Excel or Powerpoint files already have dozens of options that let them do that for free.
In fact, there are also many apps that let you create and edit these documents for free, including Apple’s Pages, Numbers and Keynote. Sure, these aren’t nearly as powerful as Microsoft Office, which will likely offer better roundtrip editing compatibility, but they’re good enough for anyone who edits documents occasionally.
There are also others like Microsoft’s own OneNote, a note-taking app, offered free for the PC, Mac, iOS, Android and Windows Phone devices. While not exactly a word processor, OneNote offers rich text editing for notes that can be synced across devices, much like how Office on iPad, iPhone and Android works.
Other options include the free QuickOffice from Google, Smart Office 2 (S$12.98) and Documents To Go Premium (S$21.98).
Maybe Microsoft will change its tune one day, as it did with OneNote. It initially allowed users to create up to 2,000 notes, unless they purchased the app. Today, OneNote is completely free.
Microsoft doesn’t need to offer Office for free. It shouldn’t. But perhaps the software giant, famous for its confusing, multiple editions for Office and Windows products, should consider offering Home and Business editions – a one-time purchase for the Home edition and a subscription fee for the Business edition.