Microsoft to Apple and Google: Be afraid, be very afraid

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Microsoft's announcement of a cloud-first, touch-enabled Office 2013 was the final shot across the bows of Apple and Google. Microsoft, which until now was not really attacking the mobile market, is suddenly leveling its big guns at would-be enterprise competitors, and planning to take them by storm.

If my language sounds somewhat warlike, there's a reason. Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has trained its development and marketing weaponry on its biggest potential competitors and it's planning to stop them dead in their tracks. Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) should be very worried.

In quick succession, Microsoft introduced the Surface tablet, one version of which is aimed squarely at Apple's iPad, and one version of which is aimed at the enterprise--to companies that may be making do with an iPad solution, but want something more. Then Microsoft announced the Windows 8 release date and released a new preview version of its operating system. No surprise--Windows 8 is designed for a touch-based mobile environment from the ground up. The final blow came when Microsoft announced a cloud-based, touch-enabled Office 2013.

Microsoft Office 2013 should worry Apple and Google a lot. Despite Google's success in creating a totally cloud-based office productivity offering in Google Apps, it's not had a great deal of success in enterprises. The reason? Analysts I've talked to put the global penetration of Microsoft Office at something like 85 percent, when they're being conservative. It could be higher.

This means that virtually every business creates its documents using Microsoft Word, they do financial calculations with Excel, presentations with PowerPoint and email using Outlook. This extends across enterprises of all types and sizes. Microsoft Office runs on Windows and Mac OS. It does not run on the iPad and there is no Android app for Office.

While it's true that there are many office suites available for both the iPad and for Android tablets, they're not Microsoft Office. And while Google Docs and the other applications in Google Apps for Business do well enough as cloud-based apps, they don't always work well with Word or Excel documents, and offline use is problematic.

What this means is that Microsoft Office basically owns the enterprise. A fully mobile, fully touch-enabled version of Office will be hard for Apple or Google to fight. Mac users will fit right in to the Office 2013 suite, which comes with SkyDrive and allows synchronization between a wide variety of devices, so you can start a document on your Mac and finish it on your Surface tablet, then view it on your cell phone as long as you have the SkyDrive app installed.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is also providing the mobile environment that will support Office. Windows 8 phones will come with Office. The Surface with Windows RT will have Office included. When Office runs on a mobile device, both it and Windows 8 will be operated by touch, but both can also use a stylus, or a mouse and keyboard.

Apple has little to offer for enterprise iPad users when it comes to competing with Microsoft Office. And you can bet that there won't be an Office app for the iPad any time soon. Google has to face a real challenge in the cloud with a suite of applications that work with what most companies already use. More important, Office 2013 doesn't require the cloud, so users can still be productive when they're away from a fast Internet connection.

But this doesn't mean that Microsoft has already won the battle for the enterprise. It's got a huge advantage, but it could still drop the ball by shipping a product that's not really ready for prime time, by missing dates for the Surface Pro, or by simply having a user interface that bewilders users. But right now, that doesn't seem likely, and this is why Apple and Google should be afraid. - Wayne

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