Office 15 on Windows 8 on ARM: Three guesses how it could work

Office 15 on Windows 8 on ARM: Three guesses how it could work

Summary: How might Microsoft deliver the four Office 15 apps that the company is promising to "include" with Windows 8 on ARM tablets and PCs? Here are my best guesses as to how it could happen.


One big revelation from Microsoft's brain dump last week on Windows on ARM (WOA) has received relatively little scrutiny: the Office 15 component.

Windows President Steven Sinofsky blogged on February 9 that touch-/power-optimized versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote would be "included" on ARM-based Windows 8 tablets and PCs. These will be Desktop apps, not Metro-style, WinRT apps. They will be part of the set of the coming Office 15 deliverables.

Here is the exact quote from Sinofsky's blog post on Office on WOA:

"WOA includes desktop versions of the new Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. These new Office applications, codenamed 'Office 15', have been significantly architected for both touch and minimized power/resource consumption, while also being fully-featured for consumers and providing complete document compatibility."

I've seen a number of pundits and bloggers immediately assume this means that Microsoft will bundle full native versions of these four Office 15 apps on ARM-based devices for free.

I'm skeptical this is what Sinofsky's statement means. (Microsoft officials said they are not in a position to clarify exactly what it did mean.) But I'd note Sinofsky didn't say these four apps will be "preinstalled," "built-in," or "integrated." He also didn't say they'd be "free."

Microsoft still makes a ton of money on native versions of Office sold on PCs, making me doubtful the company plans to give away four of its most popular apps. There's also that little matter of "bundling" that could leave the Redmondians wide-open to an antitrust suit, I'd think, given Microsoft still dominates PC operating system sales. (Yes, Microsoft is getting increasingly bolder about bundling now that the period of close U.S. Department of Justice antitrust scrutiny has ended. But bold enough to bundle Office and Windows together -- with companies like Google studying the Soft for any potential legal misstep? Hmmm.)

Instead, I'm thinking Microsoft might adopt one several methods -- some of which it the company pioneered with Office 2010 -- to make the aforementioned Office apps available to Windows 8 on ARM customers. Remember, these are just guesses on my part. But just maybe...

1. Microsoft creates an updated Office Starter SKU that includes fairly rudimentary versions of these four apps. With Office 2010, Office Starter provided basic document viewing and editing only for Word 2010 and Excel 2010. Starter is ad-supported, so, free to consumers. It is meant to replace the Microsoft Works trial that is often preloaded on new PCs. The versions of Word and Excel in Starter are reduced functionality/stripped-down ones. Just because Sinofsky called the four coming apps "fully-featured for consumers" doesn't necessarily mean that every Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote feature will be in there. If Microsoft uses a Starter approach, by agreeing to pay to upgrade, WOA users would "unlock" all (or at least more) of the features of the products.

2. Microsoft makes preloading Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote a prerequisite for OEMs that want to sell Windows 8 ARM devices. Microsoft has been pushing to get more PC makers to install Office on new PCs. With Office 2010, Microsoft tested the concept of selling users Product Key Cards, single-license cards that unlocked Office 2010. The idea behind this is to allow users to more easily and quickly upgrade to one of the full consumer versions of Microsoft Office 2010. There’s no media on the card; it’s just a key. This works when an Office image is pre-installed already on a new machine and the key activates it. 3. Microsoft delivers new (and hopefully improved_ versions of its Office Web Apps -- the webified Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote apps -- to WOA users. These would go beyond the cloud-only Office Web Apps that are out there today. They might include some kind of a client download -- the way that Windows Live Essentials apps do that would allow Microsoft to get away with calling them "local." (Live Essentials apps that consist of both Web and local components currently include Photo Gallery, Mail, Movie Maker, Messenger, Writer, Family Safety and Live Mesh.)

To me, the most important words many are ignoring in Sinofsky's post is this version of Office 15 on WOA is that these four included apps are for consumers. Consumers are not business users. They are likely to have a higher tolerance for things like ad-supported versions and products that don't include every bell and whistle.

Anyone else out there have any thoughts about how Microsoft might make these four Office 15 apps available on WOA devices later this year?

Topics: Windows, Collaboration, Microsoft, Processors, Software


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • RE: Office 15 on Windows 8 on ARM: Three guesses how it could work

    Well Mary Jo, I think they might just have a look at the lovely job Apple have done with their desktop apps on the iPhone and iPad. Are they cut down? No, just respectful of the form factor. Thats how to really do it. A web app version will be crass unless it understands the form factor really really well.
    • You're kidding right?


      Have you even used iWork on either platform? The iOS versions are HEAVILY stripped down versions of their desktop counterparts. I've used both, and the iPad version is just unusable. The touch characteristics suck.
    • RE: Office 15 on Windows 8 on ARM: Three guesses how it could work

      @nuxnix are you serious? the touch apps of the iwork set are losing tons of functionality. how could you possibly suggest they are just respectful of the form factor when they lack basic functionality that should be there regardless of the form factor.
    • RE: Office 15 on Windows 8 on ARM: Three guesses how it could work

      Good point Mary. I'd say number 1 is most likely.

      The more I read about Windows 8 ARM, the more I reckon it's intended for Consumers. Business will want Intel tablets due to it's backwards app compatibility, this is crucial for Business but not crucial for Consumers.

      Option 2 is possible but it will bump the price of the tablet up and is not something Microsoft have done before.

      I cannot see it being Option 3.
  • RE: Office 15 on Windows 8 on ARM: Three guesses how it could work

    Kepp in mind that 30 day evaluation versions of Office are included in many PCs with an option to purchase a full activation key when the evaluation period expires. So that's one possibility.

    And honestly, I wouldn't mind paying for Office if it were reasonbly priced (say each component costing $9.99). But if Microsoft still wants me to pay $100+ for Office I might look to some of the much cheaper alternatives that are floating around.
    • RE: Office 15 on Windows 8 on ARM: Three guesses how it could work

      @dsf3g But not on ARM you won't.
      • RE: Office 15 on Windows 8 on ARM: Three guesses how it could work


        I won't what?
      • RE: Office 15 on Windows 8 on ARM: Three guesses how it could work

        @dsf3g Look at cheaper alternatives - you won't be able to install them (on desktop) on ARM. Don't forget they'll have to come via Microsoft's online store.

        Personally, I think x86 is the way to go (for this reason).
      • RE: Office 15 on Windows 8 on ARM: Three guesses how it could work

        ROTFLMAO! That's hilarious! What kind of schmuck would even consider giving Microsoft's tablet answer a try? Talk about a closed system..."Sorry, Open Office, we're afraid your software is a security Microsoft store for you!!!"
      • RE: Office 15 on Windows 8 on ARM: Three guesses how it could work


        You base your computer on running OpenOffice?
        Michael Alan Goff
      • RE: Office 15 on Windows 8 on ARM: Three guesses how it could work

        @Michael Alan Goff I base my computer on my ability to -choose-. I'll make more concessions for a tablet, but not for something that claims to be a "PC".
    • RE: Office 15 on Windows 8 on ARM: Three guesses how it could work


      A very good way for Microsoft's tablets to gain absolutely no traction in the market is for Microsoft to bar software verndors from selling apps that compete with Office and other microsoft products. It's also a good way to antagonize developers.

      I seriously cannot imagine Microsoft doing sothing like this.

      I should also mention that when I said I'd consider other alternatives if Microsoft prices the ARM version of Office at 100+ dollars, i don't just mean I'll consider alternative software. i mean I'll consider alternative tablets, too, like the iPad or Android tabs.
      • The problem's the model they are adopting... precisely that way... @dsf3g...

        That is, since WOA users will have no way of installing apps on the "Desktop" environment. From Sinofsky's post "WOA does not support running, emulating, or porting existing x86/64 desktop apps."

        So... Open Office or any other office alternative will have to be a Metro app to run on WOA. Only Office 15, will run on the desktop.

        So that will make any alternative a second-class citizen on WOA (at least).

        As much as Sinofsky and all other MS guys try to convince us that is is a "no compromise" transition, the more we see this isn't true. The more we see that internally Microsoft is at a battle that surely will affect them externally. At least until Windows 9 defines who had the most clout: Win32 or WinRT.
      • RE: Office 15 on Windows 8 on ARM: Three guesses how it could work

        @cosuna It's actually slightly more problematic than even that. You can't do it with OpenOffice/LibreOffice because you can't distribute the source/binary outside Microsoft's store (same problem as GNU software has on iOS) so you can't satisfy the GPL.

        Even a "Metro" version can't fix this.
  • They may have made consumer-only versions of Office

    The fact that they say they have re-architected these Office apllications tells me they aren't just going to offer access to the web versions. No, they will be native versions, running locally.<br><br>And, I don't think they will be very stripped down, in the sense of a "starter" edition.<br><br>But, the comment about them being 'for consumers"says it all.<br><br>Each Office applications has a small set of features that make sense only in managed corporate environments. To give you but one small set of examples, look at Excel. On the "Data" tab, there is the "Get External Data" group, which includes the following commands that only make sense to enterprise customers:<br><br>- "From Access"<br>- "From SQL Server"<br>- "From Analysis Services"<br>- "From XML Data Import"<br>- "From Data Connection Wizard"<br>- "From Microsoft Query"<br><br>My thought is that they have very carefully identified the commands that only make sense in a corporate environment, and then constructed "consumer-only" versions of the Office applications that omit these commands. To do so would be totally in line with their strategic shift back into consumers, and it would de-complexify Office for consumers.
    • RE: Office 15 on Windows 8 on ARM: Three guesses how it could work

      @easson This is precisely what I read Sinofsky's comment to mean as well.
      Harry S.
    • RE: Office 15 on Windows 8 on ARM: Three guesses how it could work


      If you like a full version of MS Office on Win8 tablet, you can always use a remote desktop client and a XP/Win7 remote desktop server such as ThinServer XP
    • RE: Office 15 on Windows 8 on ARM: Three guesses how it could work

      @easson I think you're probably right, but I also read something else into the "for consumers" comment -- that there's probably a licensing aspect at play here. This could mean that Microsoft doesn't plan to include the WOA versions of Office 15 in the standard UAF framework that many large customers use for licensing. I don't think it means that the WOA versions are meant to be purely consumer-focused, though, because Microsoft has already had a lot of feedback and interest from enterprise customers on end-user devices (tablet or "ARM-based ultrabook-clone" form factors) running WOA. In some large enterprises that kind of device could meet the needs of as many as 80% of users -- and would presumably have a much lower TCO (and potentally equal manageability) as the x86-based end-user devices today.
  • RE: Office 15 on Windows 8 on ARM: Three guesses how it could work

    I think you're most likely on the money with option 2.

    I actually think this might be technical. We're told you can't install "desktop" applications on Windows 8 ARM, if that's true then how could they sell you "desktop" office? The problem goes away if it's all there already, you just "unlock it".

    If this is how it works (and the reason behind it is correct) I'd imagine competitors will scream blue murder, as they cannot get their applications onto the desktop.

    I'm guessing Microsoft's defence will be something along the lines of "we don't have a monopoly in OSs for SoA - the closest to that is Apple's iOS". If that's their defence, then it's a pretty good one.

    However, I don't think Windows 8 on ARM makes much sense for "normal consumers", sticking with x86 and that version of Windows 8 seems far more logical. Then you can have all the Metro stuff AND traditional Windows apps.
    • It's an extremely good defence

      @ jeremychappell

      The existing market definition for Windows in competition policy case law is operating systems for x86 PCs. Competitors can complain all they like about WOA. It won't make a bit of difference, even in theory, until WOA has a market share of of 15 per cent. In practice, it's unlikely to matter in the 15-30 per cent range either. If WOA captures 30 per cent or more of the tablet market, then Microsoft will have to start considering competition issues.

      From a technical perspective, Microsoft offers some optional software (not just updates) through Windows Update. Office updates are also offered through Microsoft Update, which seems to be the same thing, technically, as Windows Update. With WOA, Microsoft could easily offer Office through Windows/Microsoft Update.

      I have to say, I disagree about tablets. I haven't yet bought a tablet, but an iPad-like device with a digitiser, OneNote and Word/Excel/PowerPoint would be very tempting. If Intel's power consumption characteristics improve, I could see myself eventually replacing an Intel notebook and Arm tablet with a single Intel notebook/tablet, but the technology isn't there yet.