Microsoft Reveals Plan To Offer Free Office Apps For iPads, iPhones And Android Tablets

Microsoft is loosening its restrictions on what people can do with its free Office apps for mobile devices, in the latest example of CEO Satya Nadella's plan to get the masses using its productivity software.

Microsoft on Thursday also unveiled Office apps designed for Apple's iPhone and launched a preview for Android tablet Office apps that are slated to be available early next year. Microsoft has also updated its iPad Office apps, which debuted in March.

When they first launched, the iPad Office apps let users read Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents free of charge, but if users wanted to edit and print, they had to buy an Office 365 subscription.

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Now Microsoft is letting users create and edit Office files on iPhones, iPads and Android tablets for free, John Case, corporate vice president of Office, said in a blog post.

An Office 365 subscription, which starts at $69.99 per user annually, gives users access to "advanced editing and collaboration capabilities, unlimited OneDrive storage, Dropbox integration and a number of other benefits," Case said in the blog post.

In a big departure from tradition, Microsoft is rolling out iPad and Android tablet versions of Office before doing the same for Windows tablets. Case, in the blog post, said touch-optimized Office apps for Windows 10 are "in the works" and that Microsoft will soon be sharing more information about them.

For years, Microsoft only sold Office for Windows. Nadella, since taking over as CEO, has decided that bringing Office to other platforms is the best way to go in a world where cloud and mobile are the key enabling technologies for business.

Rand Morimoto, president of Convergent Computing, an Oakland, Calif.-based Microsoft partner, thinks this is a bold yet carefully calculated move to expand the software giant's influence with new users.

"While Microsoft might miss out on customers no longer buying Windows and Office, this is an extremely savvy strategy," Morimoto told CRN. "Users are going to choose Macs, iPads, iPhones and Android devices if they want to anyway. Keeping them happy could get them to adopt Office 365 and other Microsoft offerings."

Microsoft, which released Outlook for Mac last week and plans to release an Office for Mac beta in the first half of 2015, now has a software lineup that its cloud software rivals can't match, according to Morimoto.

"We had a couple customers recently comparing Google Apps with Office 365. The kicker for them to choose Office 365 was that Microsoft has the full client software for Macs, iOS and Android that customers want," Morimoto said.