Over the past few years, you’d be forgiven for thinking Microsoft had turned Microsoft Office into software and services for everyone but themselves. But with the launch of Office 2016 on Tuesday new versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint has finally arrived for Windows desktop customers.
Though less sexy, perhaps, than the move to bring Office to Android and iOS, Office 2016 is critically important for Microsoft as it looks to make the case for consumers and businesses to upgrade to Windows 10, the latest generation of its operating system.
“The really hard thing is satisfying a broad set of needs,” Microsoft chief marketing Officer Chris Capossela told Re/code. “There’s a whole set of people who all they would want us to do is work on the core desktop stuff because they use it everyday.”
Capossela said the challenge is figuring out how much time to spend serving those customers and how much to spend going after the groups of users that have grown up with iPhones and Android tablets and work at companies using cloud-based options like Google Apps.
“We have to find that balance,” he said.
Having a new desktop version of the software means that consumers who pick up a new PC this holiday season can get Microsoft’s latest and greatest desktop software. For consumers, Microsoft is offering Windows 10 as a free update and is eager to get as many PCs running the new software as possible. Office 2016 is a free update to Windows 365 subscribers and also goes on sale Tuesday to consumers and businesses.
And it is those businesses that are perhaps most critical to Microsoft’s bottom line. The new Office gives businesses that want to upgrade their computers over the coming months and years the opportunity to upgrade both the operating system and Office at the same time.
“They don’t want to touch their desktops twice,” Capossela said.
With Windows 8, Microsoft didn’t even really make a big corporate push. But expect Microsoft to make the case to businesses that Windows 10 is a logical and valuable upgrade from the Windows 7 that many companies are running.
Currently, Windows 10 is on about five percent of Internet-connected computers, compared to about 14 percent running Windows 8 or 8.1 and 57 percent using Windows 7, according to NetMarketShare.
Office 2016 can help make that case by offering Windows 10 users some new features, in addition to just fitting in better in a world where documents are being created and viewed in all kinds of places and stored in the cloud as often as on a computer. Most of the big changes in the new desktop apps are around how groups of workers can collaborate on documents, rather than improving the individual experience.
“We’ve made sharing unbelievably simple,” Capossela said, referring to a button in the upper right hand corner. “As soon as I share it, you can start typing in Word, and I see you typing real-time and you see me typing real-time.”
Communication via Skype is also built-in, he said.
The new full-featured desktop Office 2016 suite is in addition to a second Windows version of Office — the touch-first mobile apps that Microsoft released earlier this year for use on Windows 10 tablets and touch-capable computers. Those apps, released along with Windows 10 in July, are designed more for lightweight editing and as a companion to the desktop apps. They also filled a key need for Microsoft as it has spent the last couple of years trying to sell touch-based Windows machines without a version of the software that worked comfortably without a keyboard and mouse.
And, like their brethren for Android and iOS, Microsoft has made those apps free for small PCs and tablets, as compared to Office 2016 which remains an entirely paid product.
Microsoft is pushing companies and individuals to pay for a subscription to Office 365 which allows people to use Office on all manner of computing devices.
Capossela said Microsoft will continue to offer consumers and businesses the option to buy Office for a 1-time purchase, but added that is not the focus. “Without a doubt, subscription is where the future really lies.”
Along those lines, Microsoft also has a new version of Office for Mac. It has been available since earlier this year to Office 365 subscribers, but is just now going on sale for those that want to buy it as a one-time purchase.
And along with mainstays Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, Microsoft is putting more emphasis on a new product, Sway, that it describes as a tool for digital storytelling.
“I think Sway is this hidden gem in the new Office,” Capossela said.