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Office 365’s epic transformation
Microsoft Office is the very definition of legacy Windows desktop software, having begun its existence as a bundle of productivity apps (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) nearly a quarter-century ago, in 1990. It’s also one of Microsoft’s crown jewels, contributing more revenue than Windows to the company’s bottom line in recent years.
So the fact that the company has managed to transform its most profitable legacy software product into a successful subscription service is a very big deal. Office 365 debuted in early 2013. Less than a year later, it’s bringing in $1.5 billion a year in revenue and is continuing to grow. The Home Premium edition has 2 million paying subscribers, who each pay $99 a year for the right to install the full collection of Office programs on up to five PCs or Macs. And it’s gaining traction in the enterprise as well, with 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies having purchased Office 365 licenses in the past year. (If you’re confused by the different editions, you’re not alone: Here’s an explainer.)
Behind the scenes, Office 365 uses a technology called Click-to-Run virtualization to stream apps to a client device. Signing in with an Office 365 account eliminates the need for activation and long product keys. Subscribers can deactivate an installation anytime and install the software on a different device—a very useful feature in a multi-device world.
What appears in Office often shows up later in Windows. So how long until Microsoft debuts a Windows as a subscription product using the same model?
— Ed Bott
Nokia Lumia 1020
How many digital point-and-shoot cameras are now gathering dust on closet shelves or junk drawers? Lots and lots. They’ve been rendered obsolete, shipped off to the Island of Misfit Toys and replaced by smartphone cameras.
Apple has defined the category with its superb iPhone cameras and software. This year Nokia raised the bar mightily with its Lumia 1020, which boasts a long list of first-of-its-kind specs: a 41-megapixel main sensor, optical image stabilization, Full HD video, and pro-grade software that has evolved steadily since the product’s launch. Or you can ignore the specs and just look at the photos this phone produces, which explain why our reviewer called it “the photographer’s smartphone.”
The 1020 and its companions at the high end of the Lumia line also show off Nokia's exceptional industrial design chops. When Nokia’s acquisition by Microsoft is complete next year, it will join a hardware team that has already produced some impressive industrial design under the Surface brand name. That’s a significant transformation for a company that Stave Jobs once infamously said “has no taste.”
— Ed Bott
2-in-1s: notebook and tablet in a single device
A screen you can’t touch somehow seems incomplete these days. Smartphones and tablets have conditioned us to expect devices to respond to a tap or a swipe, and Microsoft is betting the future of Windows on making touch an equal partner to the more traditional mouse-and-keyboard forms of input.
And thus was born the 2-in-1 PC, which works both as a notebook computer and a tablet. Microsoft’s Surface and Surface Pro lines, with click-in keyboards that double as covers, were the first, but all the major PC OEMs have gotten into the act, experimenting with abandon in their attempts to create variations on the theme. On some, the display detaches to work as a tablet; others allow the display to bend 180 degrees to become a tablet; still others incorporate a display that flips on a hinge or within a frame.
Even after a year of breakneck experimentation, it's still too soon to tell whether this new form factor is catching on with consumers. But don't expect Microsoft and the OEMs to give up. They're too far down the 2-in-1 path to give up now. And don’t be surprised if Apple joins the party. After all, they won a patent for just such a device back in 2010.
— Larry Seltzer