How mobile will kill off Microsoft Office

Everyone knows they use a small fraction of Office capabilities, yet still pay $200 for the whole thing. With mobile, they don't have to

Microsoft Office is in the enviable position of being on practically everyone's desktop or laptop, even though it hasn't offered anything new since the 1997 edition (or maybe 2002/XP version, which added hyperlinks support) that 95 percent of the users need. Yet users and companies pay $200 or so per license every few years because -- well, because it's a bad habit we've all gotten into that provides Microsoft huge ongoing revenues in return for, frankly, nothing.

Microsoft Office 2010 is the latest unnecessary version, loaded with collaboration features that almost no one uses, while also tying you more and more to Windows Server products.

[ InfoWorld's Frank J. Ohlhorst shows you the Office 2010 business features that are worth paying for. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights with the Mobile Edge blog and Mobilize newsletter. ]

So how does mobile fit in? Well, for Microsoft die-hards, there's Office Mobile 2010 for certain Windows Mobile 6.5 phones -- and for forthcoming Windows Phone 7 devices. But there are also a couple solid Office-compatible editors for iPhones and other iOS devices, for BlackBerrys, and for Android devices: DataViz's Documents to Go and Quickoffice's Quickoffice Mobile Suite. They cost $15 each and are roughly equivalent to what WordPad can do on a PC for text editing; they also support basic Excel and, to a lesser degree, PowerPoint work. And many mobile devices can display Office files for reading using built-in, free apps; iOS's Preview app is the most capable of these.

Given that most people use Office to read and comment on Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files and maybe to do some rudimentary documents (think about how many documents you now do wholly in email), these mobile desktop productivity tools are close to delivering what most workers need. And soon, they'll be there. As mobile devices such as the iPad gain business adoption, fewer and fewer people will find themselves working on documents on a PC, but instead use tools like Documents to Go and Quickoffice on their slates or smartphones.

That will finally cause businesses to wonder why they spend $200 every few years for a new version of a product that can be replaced by a $15 or $30 product on the devices people increasingly prefer to use anyhow. The spreadsheet jockeys, marketing mavens, and sales gurus will still need a rich tool like Office, but most other employees won't.

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