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

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.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

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?

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