With Office for iPad, a recognition that a genius idea has a shelf life

This week's news roundup ponders Office for iPad; plus, Facebook's virtual reality grab, cloud pricing wars and big data privacy (is there such a thing?).

What's the big news for CIOs this week? It's a user-first, mobile-device world after all. That, and a reminder that even a genius idea has a shelf life. On Thursday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made it official that, as predicted, the company was launching Office for iPad. As of 11 a.m. PST yesterday, touch-enabled versions of the most successful office productivity applications in history -- Word, Excel and PowerPoint -- became available on the world's most popular tablet. Versions are forthcoming for Google's Android operating system.

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"The vision is pretty straightforward," Nadella said at his first public press conference since becoming CEO in February. "It is to make sure that the 1 billion Office users, and growing, can have access to the high-fidelity Office experience on every device they love to use." Or, as Apple's official comment spun it, "We're excited that Office is coming to iPad -- now part of the more-than-500,000 apps designed specifically for iPad."

Longtime followers of Microsoft's development of the mobile software suite, under way now for a few years, noted that Office for iPad bucks company tradition on a number of fronts -- the sales model is different, for example -- but first and foremost it breaks with using the Windows operating system as the launch pad for new software. And that is a big break indeed. The workhorse applications of the Information Age workforce -- Microsoft's flagship product -- and the dominant operating system of the past three decades are acceding to the mobile device. Not just to its mobile phones and tablets but to whatever mobile devices its customers want! Welcome to the age of the customer, as the pundits like to say.

The change mostly was heralded as good thing. A New York Times piece on the news questioned whether the shift in perspective came too late, quoting office workers who, in the absence of an iPad-compatible version of Word, had moved on to other products, including Apple's iWorks productivity suite. And, in the Comments sections of the slew of pre- and post-announcement analyses of the Office for iPad news, there is plenty of testimony to bear that out -- but there also are happy campers, grateful that they can be productive on the device they love to use, as Mr. Nadella put it.

"What motivates us is the reality of our customers," Nadella said to The New York Times. The reality our customers! What CIO hasn't had to absorb that lesson? My favorite quote from Nadella surfaced in the Bloomberg story by reporters Dina Bass and Peter Burrows. "It's not a tradeoff, because it's about going where customers are going," he told them after the event. "It's not about today's share position based on today's form factors, because in the full arc of time, there will be many new platforms that will require Office, from small screens to large screens."

Previously on Searchlight

Don't analyze this, not all data is a big deal

Is focusing on apps a dangerous trend for tech?

Your company's digital strategy is so 19th century

Meantime, Rob Koplowitz, an analyst at Forrester Research and longtime critic of Microsoft's mobile efforts, had a test run of the product. "I got a hold of it about a week ago, and guess what? It's really good. I was immediately productive with it," he said. "A really brilliant touch-first design, simple to use, intuitive."

As for the Windows operating systems people? He argues nothing has changed. "They still have to go out and build a great product." But now Microsoft also has to build applications that are divorced from that great operating system. And that development, as the genius behind the creation and hegemony of Windows surely would agree, marks the end of an era.

Below, we've rounded up some pieces from around the Web on the Microsoft news, plus stuff on some of those other technology players that make life exciting for CIOs (Facebook, Google, Amazon, the NSA…) Have a good weekend!

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, executive editor, or on Twitter at @ltucci.

This was last published in March 2014

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So many questions: Are you planning to buy Office for iPad? Did Microsoft wait too long or deliver at just the right time? If you've used it, do you like it? Talk to us!
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Let's be clear: despite all the consumer hype, Office is targeted squarely at businesses. Which means Microsoft's cautious, conservative approach has probably paid off. Many businesses are still on Windows XP, for goodness' sake. If anything can persuade them to upgrade, it's the vision of a ubiquitous Office (rather than a ubiquitous Windows).
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As someone who just bought a new computer and needs to buy Office again, this complicates my decision. Initially I was leaning toward standard Office, as the ongoing cost of 365 didn't seem worth it (one device was enough for us). But now I'm wondering if having it on an iPad would be worth it for traveling. Will probably cheap out though...
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Subscription tablet / phone apps generally irk me, especially ones that have suitable free alternatives.  The benefits if you are the sole user on one device are not worth the expense.
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