Microsoft banks on Office's usability, subscription licensing appeal

Microsoft banks on Office's usability, subscription licensing appeal

Summary: A clean, touch-friendly user interface and a subscription-based model offering access to more devices should make Office 2013 attractive to an increasingly mobile-savvy Asian consumer base.


Singapore: Microsoft hopes its new Office 2013 productivity suite, which sports a cleaner, touch-enabled design and now comes with subscription-based licensing, will better resonate with Asian customers who are using more mobile devices at work and play currently.

The latest version of Microsoft's Office suite was launched worldwide on January 29, together with the consumer-targeted Office 365 Home Premium. The latter is a cloud-based offering that gives users access to Office 2013 in up to five devices--PCs, Macs, or Windows tablets--for a subscription fee.

In Singapore, customers will have to pay S$138 (US$111.75) for a year's subscription to Office 365 Home Premium and the package includes staples such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, as well as 20 gigabytes of SkyDrive storage and 60 Skype world minutes per month for both mobile and landline, the company revealed at a launch event held here Wednesday. A monthly subscription option, available in the US, is not for customers here.

By comparison, the boxed version of the Office Home & Student 2013 software offers Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote at S$189 (US$152.79), and limited to a single install. Online storage via SkyDrive is capped at 7GB for users with a Microsoft account, it noted.

(Credit: Microsoft)

The software giant, which recently made its first foray into the hardware business with its Surface tablet, has been trying to strengthen its market position in a time when tablets and smartphones are steadily outpacing PC sales, which used to be its dominant installed base.

Reed Wotiz, regional director of Office marketing at Microsoft-Asia-Pacific, said in an interview during the event: "What we're trying to do is go with the trend of multiple devices, and say, 'It's your Office on any device, anywhere you go.' It doesn't really matter to Microsoft what those devices are. We want to make sure we're everywhere on all devices."

The new Office subscription model is a "pretty fundamental shift in behavior" though, and Wotiz expects it will take some time to gain traction with consumers. "In Asia-Pacific, we're forecasting 10 percent to 20 percent of customers opting for subscription rather than perpetual license for one device in the very short term of 6 to 12 months."

Over the next two years, people will see the value behind Office 365 Home Premium and consumer behavior and adoption will rapidly evolve, he predicted.

John Fernandes, director of marketing and operations at Microsoft Singapore, added in the same interview that the choice between subscription-based licensing or boxed software will depend on users and what mobile devices they use and how they want to use the application.

While this is a new version of Office, it represents a generational shift that recognizes the underlying trends of device proliferation, instant access anywhere, and cloud subscription, he said.

There is a high dependence on mobile devices in Asia. More than 85 percent of Asian employees engage in bring your own device (BYOD) at work, higher than the global figure of 74 percent, according to a Fortinet study last year.

Improved usability a key feature

As such, the new user interface (UI) and experience of Office was as important as its technical functionality, Fernandes highlighted. Taking design cues from its Windows 8 operating system, the latest Office product is touch friendly, accessible across multiple device platforms, and looks brighter, with less clutter on its user interface.

"People rarely describe Office as beautiful but [this one has] got a lot of unique rich experiences built into the UI--the cleanness, the leanness, and the speed of navigation," he said, adding that users should have the same rich, consistent experience with the software whether they access it via their PC, phone, or tablet. Smartphones running Windows Phone 8 already come with a mobile version of Office.

Elaborating on the new Office UI, Gerald Leo, business group manager at Microsoft Singapore's Office division, said a more clean-cut interface is practical to cater to the different screen sizes. There is now more real estate for the actual content, whereas previous versions were cluttered with information and commands from the menu ribbon dropdown bar, he added.

Opening a Word document on a tablet in reading mode is now similar to reading an e-book simply by "flipping" across the screen, he pointed out.

"We're just enabling people to be productive in a different way, which is touch-enabled," Leo said, adding that this should play well with a market that is seeing the line blur between a consumer and an enterprise user.

Topics: Software, Cloud, Microsoft, Mobility

Jamie Yap

About Jamie Yap

Jamie writes about technology, business and the most obvious intersection of the two that is software. Other variegated topics include--in one form or other--cloud, Web 2.0, apps, data, analytics, mobile, services, and the three Es: enterprises, executives and entrepreneurs. In a previous life, she was a writer covering a different but equally serious business called show business.

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  • OpenOffice instead

    Silly Microsoft. Open Office is free and has nearly all the same apps, ad-ons, templates and functions as greedy Microsoft's Old buggy product. And best of all Open Office loaded all my spreadsheets and word documents including graphics with absolutely no hitch. Found it when I got a new computer and tried to transfer my old Office suite to the new machine. The greedy folks at Microsoft said one license one machine and offered no help. Insisted I go out and spend another five hundred bucks to buy their product. Here is a link to Open Office
    • While I agree with what ou wrote... Windows folks have got to stop pushing OpenOffice. I know you don't follow the open source world, but a few years ago Oracle acquired OpenOffice, a fork was created called LibreOffice, and then Oracle gave OpenOffice to Apache. The reality is that most of the developers went with LibreOffice, which is continuing with an impressive amount of development and new features while OpenOffice is struggling. LibreOffice is also working on a web-based and Android and iOS versions of the suite. LibreOffice really is the successor to OpenOffice. People should go to and check that out instead.
  • SORRY Microsoft NO way.......

    That we (115 users) will be using your subscription service or purchasing Office 2013 PRO.

    We will stay where we are NOT feeding MS's cash cow (or should I say DOG)
    • I have to wonder

      what the point of you posting that was
      Michael Alan Goff
    • Instead of staying where you are...

      ....why don't you switch to something else? You can't stay where you are forever, and the sooner you switch, the less legacy documents you have to worry about. Microsoft isn't going to lower prices (or re-introduce upgrade pricing!) anytime soon so there's nothing to hold out for.
  • MS Office is more then just Office

    Office is a business application that has programmable hooks and connections. It allows robust VBA scripting, .Net programming, even PowerShell scripting. It connects with backend systems such as SharePoint and now SkyDrive. Etc and so on.

    If all your business needs are spreadsheets, documents, and presentations, you could (and should) get the most cost effective and productive solution. Microsoft might not be that solution.
    Rann Xeroxx
  • Dump That Ribbon

    The Ribbon interface needs to go. It is anachronistic on the desktop, with today's widescreen monitors, where options and properties panels should be exploiting abundant screen width, instead of stealing limited screen height. And it fails to fit in on touch devices, if only because it clashes with Microsoft's own anointed TIFKAM.

    In short, Microsoft Office is looking more and more antiquated.
  • Office 365

    I have subscribed to Office 365 P1 last year, paying a small fee on the promise of always having the latest from MS.

    On the Office release date we were informed that Office 2013 will be rolled out to use "during 2013". Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. I fully expected those of us who have been paying would get the first rollout, maybe even before the commercial release date.

    Frankly I think they are guilty of false advertising and exceedingly poor customer relations. But what else is new?