surfaceofficeApple’s decision to offer its iWork suite for free on new iPads is drawing a spirited response from Microsoft’s communications chief. In a new blog post, Frank Shaw disputes the notion that the move is a competitive threat to Microsoft, pointing out that the gold standard productivity suite, Microsoft Office, already comes for free on Surface RT and its successor, the Surface 2, Microsoft’s iPad competitors.

“Now, since iWork has never gotten much traction, and was already priced like an afterthought, it’s hardly that surprising or significant a move,” Shaw writes. “And it doesn’t change the fact that it’s much harder to get work done on a device that lacks precision input and a desktop for true side-by-side multitasking.”

He concludes, “So, when I see Apple drop the price of their struggling, lightweight productivity apps, I don’t see a shot across our bow, I see an attempt to play catch up.”

Shaw’s full post is worth a read, and he makes a good case for Microsoft’s strategy with Surface and Office, but there are a few more wrinkles that are worth pointing out.

First, Microsoft offers the core Office apps for iPhone as part of a $100/year Office 365 subscription but has so far not released Word, Excel and PowerPoint for iPad. When the company does bring Office to the iPad, Apple’s move will make it tougher — not impossible, but tougher — for Microsoft to justify that annual subscription fee.

In addition, the news yesterday was actually broader than iWork being free on iPad. (In fact, Apple had already announced that.) The broader news was that Apple is also offering iWork and iLife for free on the Mac, and letting Mac users upgrade to OS X Mavericks for free.

That is where Apple’s pricing moves could sting Microsoft, with the potential to create the perception among users that software is a mere commodity that comes along with hardware. Given that Microsoft still makes the vast majority of its revenue on software, any trend in that direction is not good for the Redmond company.

By the way, we’ll get our next glimpse at how Microsoft is doing on Thursday afternoon, when the company reports its results for its fiscal first quarter.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to GeekWire's free newsletters to catch every headline


  • Kevin Chau

    The only thing left that is actually of use in Office is Excel.

    Keynote absolutely blows away PowerPoint. Not to mention Pages against Word.

    The fact that MS feels like they need to make a response, and made one, is a statement in itself.

    • ex-Mac developer, ex-Softie

      I own both Office and iWork on my Mac (paid for both). Numbers is completely unusable and Excel is fine (some things like conditional formatting have become more difficult to use in recent versions). I use PowerPoint rarely and I haven’t found Keynote to be any better. I don’t use Outlook or Mac Mail.

      I use Word almost every day. It is clunky and has mostly gotten worse over the years. Microsoft seems to have lost direction in the entire Office division, but at least they haven’t destroyed the Mac Office products completely by forcing people to use the disastrous ribbon.

      I have also used Pages and it is much, much worse than Word. It’s maybe a bit better than ClarisWorks circa 1995. What on earth were they thinking? There may be an opportunity to disrupt Word, but Pages isn’t even close and Google Docs is even further away.

    • jim lewis

      I agree with a couple of Mr Shaw’s statements. Microsoft does understand the use of office,,,, in the enterprise. Many corporations use the product and different areas of it technologies, pulling in different directions, making it pretty complex. Many third parties have built their products to integrate with office. Its my belief Apple will gain market share from creatives and from consumers who want a easy to use, more artfully creative set of products. Its just another reason I hope Microsoft settles on its strengths, the enterprise. Apple seems to have their eye on the creative and consumer ball.

  • Guest

    I guess it must get frustrating when the media just reiterates Apple’s talking points instead of doing any critical analysis. OSS and more recently Google has been offering free, as in really so not only free on our $1000 machines, for a long time. That’s a bigger threat to MS and even Apple longer term. The most interesting thing about yesterday was how Apple got a complete pass on losing share to Android, not lowering the price of iPad substantially, and no iWatch or Apple TV.

    • Walt French

      Hey, mr Anonymous, you’re trolling at the wrong article; you wanted to cut-n-paste your anti-Apple talking points on the iPad intro stories. This article is not about iWatch, AppleTV or how many gazillion smartphones people are using around the world.

      This story is about Microsoft trying to assert that it deserves much more than a 2% share in tablets. Of course Mr Shaw is not attacking OSS productivity apps on iPad or Android tablets because he knows almost nobody uses them on dektops *OR* tablets despite being free.

      The real story here might be that if Microsoft were to charge only $25/year to use Office for the iPad, they might get a good number of users up front, but a year later nobody’d bother to renew because nobody in their right mind is going to get a tablet to do hard-core wordprocessing and spreadsheets.

      You Google fans ought to be flattered that Apple is now using the same “asymmetric” competition against Microsoft that Android was so cleverly designed to be back in 2005. Pat yourselves on the back.

      And shut up about your stupid OSS office apps for tablets that have no hope of addressing the needs of people who do a lot of Office-type work, especially on tablets.

      • Guest

        OMG, Walt French is calling me a troll. Walt “I troll the interweb” French Ha ha ha!. Sorry Apple shill, just calling it like I see it. It’s a drag when facts interfere with the RDF, huh? And sorry too that you’re convinced tablets are only for play. You and Apple just keep believing that.

        • jim lewis

          I notice Mr French signs on using his name.

          • Logic Fail

            Which makes him any less of a troll, how?

Job Listings on GeekWork