Why the real Box Notes target isn't Microsoft Office

Why the real Box Notes target isn't Microsoft Office

Summary: Cloud-centric office offerings from Apple and Box don't take aim at Microsoft Office so much as they do Office Web Apps.


In the past week-plus, Apple announced plans to make its iWork office suite free for iOS users, and Box has fielded a preview of its own collaborative note-taking technology. On cue, many tech pundits began sounding the "Microsoft Office is in trouble" horn, yet again.


Some seem to have forgotten (or maybe just have never heard of?) another Microsoft offering that is is key to the cross-platform office wars. That competitive technology is Office Web Apps.

Office Web Apps are the free, Webified versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, which Microsoft first introduced with Office 2010. Office Web Apps are usable in a variety of browsers -- including Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox and Safari -- on different operating systems and form factors (PCs, tablets, smartphones). Office Web Apps include a subset of the functionality in the full Office versions of each of the apps. Microsoft claims to have 50 million active users accessing these apps every month.

Box Notes, from what I've read about the preview launched today, is a very rudimentary OneNote-type product. iWork for iCloud is the cross-platform version of iWork that Apple made available in beta form earlier this year. Like Office Web Apps, it works inside a browser -- specifically Safari, IE and Chrome.

Microsoft hasn't been crowing much about Office Web Apps lately, but the technology is still moving forward. Microsoft made a bunch of updates to Office Web Apps in June of this year. Just last week, the Excel Web App team explained in a blog post how they prioritize which features to add first. In that post, the team also listed more than a dozen features that are next on its "to-do" list, including the addition of support for editing files with VBA, hiding and unhiding rows and columns and adding/editing comments (comments are already viewable). Further Yammer integration with Office Web Apps is supposedly a fall 2013 thing, last we heard.

Android tablet support also is on the Office Web Apps' team list of platforms which it plans to support fully. As the team noted back in May, Microsoft's goal is to support Android tablets via the Chrome browser the same way it already supports Windows 8 tablets and iPads.

Speaking of multiplatform support, I've gotten a number of questions lately as to when and if Microsoft still plans to go beyond Office Web Apps (and the recently announced Office Mobile for iPhone) and deliver the long-rumored native Office for iPad application that it allegedly has developed.

I hear that project is still on -- though it's tough to say with any degree of certainty what the new Microsoft Applications & Services team is now planning, post-reorg. Before it rolls out any kind of native Office suite for iPad or Android tablets, however, Microsoft first needs to field a preview/test build of its coming Metro-Style/Windows Store Office apps, codenamed "Gemini." Microsoft execs said earlier this year that the Gemini apps are not expected to be generally available (in post-preview form) until some time in 2014.

Once those apps are out, Microsoft is supposedly on track to deliver the iPad version of its core Office apps. The fall 2014 target for Office for iPad still sounds like it could be right -- unless Microsoft decides to go earlier than than originally planned (as it seemingly did with Outlook for Windows RT).

Some of us Microsoft watchers are expecting if and when Office for iPad arrives, there could be an Office 365 subscription requirement, like there is for Office Mobile for iPhone. It's worth noting that for consumers, there's no such requirement with Office Web Apps; they are accessible via SkyDrive.com.

Topics: Storage, Apple, Cloud, Collaboration, Enterprise Software, Microsoft


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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  • I've really got to disagree here.

    There has been a huge increase in places talking about how to leave Microsoft Office. Office 365 is only part of the problem. Box is simply trying to ride the general anti-Microsoft Office wave. When Office 365 first came out, there was a huge number of reviews. Nearly every one of them contained something at the end that pointed to LibreOffice or one of many other alternatives.
    (See: http://computingcompendium.blogspot.com/p/alternatives-to-microsoft-office.html)

    The rate of anti-Office articles appearing has increased greatly. Today, several places (including the Wall Street Journal) came out with articles telling people how to leave Microsoft Office:
    (See: http://computingcompendium.blogspot.com/2013/09/suddenly-everyones-looking-to-leave.html)

    Personally, I'm really excited by this. Both personally and professionally, I left Microsoft Office when the Ribbon Bar came out. I greatly resented Microsoft's gratuitous upgrades that were done simply to milk more money from me and my firm. It was somewhat painful to do then. But it's flat out easy now. It's about time this has happened. This is what Microsoft deserves for raising Office's (already too high price) in a time of plummeting software prices.
    • Or the converse may be true.

      Apple, feeling the pressure from Office Web Apps that are FREELY available to anyone and suffering from poor acceptance of their iWork Suite was force to give it away for free. Likewise, Box seeing so many people move to SkyDrive with its complete suite of FREE Office Web Apps felt as though they had no choice but to compete, or quit.

      It is all in how you spin it, isn't it.

      In reality, there is probably quite a bit of truth to the above statements, but there is a fair amount of Apple bias coupled with an old generation mentality of Anti-Microsoft bias that skews reporting.
      • Right problem, wrong source.

        No doubt Apple was feeling some pressure. Likewise Box too. But the pressure would be from Google Docs and QuickOffice.

        Not only do few people know about Office Web Apps, but few would trust it. Remember Microsoft Works? It was so crippled that it really met no one's needs. And that was a product they actually sold. I was watching a middle class couple in Staple's a few weeks ago. I suspect they ran a small mom and pop shop of some kind. They were wanting to buy Office. The sales clerk was telling them that they could pay a lot and get Office in the way they were used to, or pay less each year. They were outraged. You can surely guess what will happen when they learn about LibreOffice.
        • Office Web Apps

          Really, it is just Skydrive, any Office document on Skydrive being editable online.

          As for Office 365, it is cheaper if you have multiple computers. As for whether there exists an equivalent Office replacement? No, there isn't one, not for those that use Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Publisher, Outlook, etc. There are a few individual programs that could maybe compete with each part, but for general purpose use, Office is still the best.
        • I used to use Google Docs

          But I have completely switched over to Office Web Apps on SkyDrive because I was so tired of fighting Google Docs to make it behave the way I wanted.

          As for people not knowing about Office Web Apps, I suppose there is truth in that. However, more and more people are using SkyDrive because it integrates so seamlessly with Windows 8, and even more so with Windows 8.1.

          I have tried LibreOffice and it is pretty good, but it still feels like it is quite a few years behind. The new MS Office 2013 is so smoothly integrated with the cloud, it is hard to give that up.
          • SkyDrive for work; iCloud for Music

            Actually, SkyDrive for everything BUT music! LOL
            not only can you edit Office files and not "break them" with a 3rd party alternative, but you can now do simple editing and tagging of photos too.
            my clients use SkyDrive so much more than they do their iCloud not because I make them do it, but because SkyDrive "just works" and they have it on their PCs, iPads and iPhones.
            all their files, data, backups, photos, contracts, etc.
            Bow if I could only convince them to give up AOL Mail!!!!
            John Freiman
        • outraged couple?

          It sound like the they were led astray by a a young employee who can't see beyond his nose!
          Office 365 is a great purchase if you have multiple PCs AND always need the most up to date version of software.
          if you don't upgrade every year and only use your Office 2013 license on a desktop PC and one laptop then you NEVER NEED to upgrade or buy a new version EVER!
          If I witnessed this happening in a store I would interrupt this exchange and find out what their NEEDS were and how often they buy new software before confusing them with so much BS.
          John Freiman
    • Everyone is many & you not many

      That blog is yours and your opinion is not everyone of Office users.
      Ram U
  • Metro Office needs to priced at $25 per annum or less

    The consumer is no longer prepared to pay for MS office, they are fed up with using MS Office at work, and want simpler, lighter alternative. They are not waiting until late 2014 !

    Enterprise will also need convincing to stay with expensive MS lisences when they see all the consumers drift away.

    Microsoft needs to smell the roses
    • That's why Office is dying.


      Quick note, just because you're unwilling/can't afford to pay for expensive software, doesn't mean that others aren't.

      I know many people (most whom are teachers) who've bought their own Office licenses.

      They buy it because most middle-class workers can afford and use the program on a daily basis.

      For them, it's a long term investment, and in terms of functionality and support, it simply remains unopposed.
      • Office Clearly is Slowly Dying

        Their latest launch did not generate as much revenue as previous launches, despite the price increases.

        I'm never trying to get someone that actually WANTS to use Office, not to buy it. If you think its worth the money go for it. The problem is few people avtually do think it is worth the money. They use a tiny fraction of Office's features. Their employer buys it for them because a bulk deal is the only way you can get a decent price from Microsoft. They buy it at home either because they don't know any better, or a somewhat misguided notion that the other stuff won't be compatible.

        I was an early rejector of Office because Microsoft really screws over tiny businesses when it comes to pricing. You have to use the business versions, but you don't really get any discounts. It was never a question of did we have enough money, it was a question of was this good return on value. When the ribbon bar was inflicted on users, it was clear to us that the answer was no.

        My goal from my personal blog is to let people know they have real options. The latest LibreOffice reviews say its compatibility with Office is now quite good, allowing a whole new class of Microsoft Office users to switch.

        I'm very sorry that teachers feel they should buy their own licenses. I think they should give LibreOffice a try... it won't cost them a penny. They should also take a look at my Alternatives To Microsoft Office (see my comment above).... the free open source office suites contain far more than what Microsoft Offers. Especially in the drawing and painting areas. There are also mind mapping and photography apps. Scribus is a great desktop publishing app. And they don't cost a cent and could be given to their students for free.
        • LibreOffice vs (MS) Office's Future

          So what happens to LibreOffice's users when both Microsoft and Apple release their touch versions of Offfice and 'everyone' has moved away from system using a mouse as it's primary tool?
          All those users will either be behind the curve for years using a suite of apps which are no longer practical.
          I speak from experience and I, along with the computer industry saw this happen with Windows.
          goodbye Word Perfect, Borland, Lotus, Notes, etc.
          for me and for many people, $100/yr for a top notch, NO comprise FULL Office package that will get automatic upgrades is so much better for most people.
          heck, many people spend $6/day at Starbucks while many do not.
          for me, Office 365 is worth it - heck, my 79yo mother through all the Outlook and Word upgrades over the years can still print out form letters and labels at Christmas time.
          Get one thing and stick with it.
          John Freiman
          • Uhmmm I don't know how to tell you this....

            Apple already has good touch versions.
            An Android version of LibreOffice is already in alpha testing.
            Google Docs already has touch versions on Android and iOS.
            Not to mention QuickOffice which is on Android and iOS and soon Chromebooks.
            I don't know status, but Caligra and OpenOffice have Android versions in progress.
            Oh... there's several touch applications for MarkDown as well.

            It's only Microsoft that is behind here. Yet another example of their ubiquity holding back the world. (Take a look at Calligra if you want to see just how badly lacking Microsoft Office is. Calligra's main sin is that it's not as worried about Microsoft Office compatibility as LibreOffice is.)

            I have grave doubts that Microsoft will ever release a "touch" version of Office. The problem is it's size... it is just too big, with too many features. Windows RT proved that Microsoft is really very bad at cutting features. They already said it would be at least late 2014 before it could ship. Do you think the ongoing reorg under the direction of a lame duck CEO is going to do anything but delay that product? And that's the initial date... think back... just how good is Microsoft at meeting those? When I heard late 2014, I said late 2016 at the earliest.

            It took Microsoft a whole year to make a tiny update to Windows 8 (and it's rumored to be very buggy still). Do you really believe they'll have a touch version of Office anytime soon?
          • Impressive

            You seem to know what everyone wants and what Microsoft thinks. And yet, here you are commenting on a ZD Net article with plebes like me who wouldn't dare claim to know what everyone wants and what Microsoft thinks and who don't draw sweeping conclusions from random encounters in Staples.
          • i disagree. You are overrating touch. Touch would drive me nuts.

            Touch on a smartphone to look up a pizza place is one thing.

            The absolute best thing for input on a netbook or desktop is a small Bamboo Touch from Wacom, selling for around $60. It's much better than a mouse or touch.

            If you are doing CAD for 8 hours a day, the difference is dramatic when using a stylus and small tablet. Even a using a mouse is not good for that kind of repetitive work. Touch is not a good idea for heavy users. JMHO.
          • LOL. Correction: "Small Bamboo Tablet", not "Small Bamboo Touch"...

          • 8 hours!!

            You must have some seriously good eyesight if you can sustain 8 hours of CAD work on a small tablet.
        • I love the ribbon

          I also hated the ribbon when it was introduced but cannot imagine using any "productivity" software without it. You will note that many of microsoft office's competitors also now use the much maligned ribbon. Office is better with the ribbon...

          As for office web apps vs google docs - I mostly use google docs. I know office web apps offer more functionality but I think I got used to using google docs and can't bring myself to switch to the superior product. Maybe most people behave like me when making product choices?
          • Disagree

            I don't see how the ribbon is anything other than a productivity drain and a screen real-estate grab. More work is required to do the same job versus the previous WIMP versions.

            Configuring the ribbon is a PITA since you can't even search the list of functions to add to the ribbon.
            Beast Of Bodmin
    • Please don't talk for me

      I'm a consumer and disagree with everything you said. I use Office at work and Office 365 at home. O365 is great for a family. I put it on my son's Lenovo, my Surface Pro, and my daughter's Dell (my wife's Surface Rt came with Office). I still have two licenses left since our Windows Phones also came with Office.