Nadella gives away the store with new 'Microsoft everywhere' strategy

Microsoft dangles free, improved Office apps for iPhone/iPad, previews an Android version, and leaves Windows flapping in the wind

Microsoft Windows
Reuters/Dado Ruvic

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella boldly goes where no Ballmer has gone before. No longer hampered by the glacial Windows dev cycle, Nadella's trying hard to change the "Windows everywhere" meme into "Microsoft everywhere," by almost literally giving away the store.

Step 1. Two weeks ago, Nadella changed the storage game by turning unlimited cloud storage into a free feature of Office 365. The official announcements have gone out to Office 365 customers, saying, "We have taken you off the waiting list and your Office 365 account now has access to unlimited OneDrive storage."

Step 2. Earlier this week, Microsoft rolled over Dropbox by announcing a (cough, cough) "coopetition" relationship. The bell started tolling for Dropbox, Box, and their ilk as soon as Microsoft announced it was giving away unlimited storage. Do the math: Office 365 pricing starts at $7 a month, and Dropbox and Google want $10 a month for 1TB. Divide by zero and ...

As InfoWorld's Serdar Yegulalp has noted, from Microsoft's perspective the Dropbox deal is a push for Office 365 subscriptions. From Dropbox's point of view, the deal is a desperate last gasp. It's mighty hard to compete against "free" -- particularly when the free offering will be hard-wired, into every copy of Windows and Office.

According to the agreement, Microsoft will build Dropbox hooks into all the Office apps. I was amazed at the amount of press Microsoft drew for such a small concession. Conversely, Dropbox will finally release a Metro app. I bet it'll take Microsoft all of a day to build the hooks -- as explained in this Office 2013 flaws slideshow (slide 4), it's easy to add Dropbox to the desktop Office apps. Building a Metro, er, Universal Windows app is another kettle of fish altogether.

Step 3. In the latest salvo, Microsoft announced yesterday that it's releasing new versions of its Office apps for iPad and iPhone and starting a preview program for Office on Android, not unlike the Windows previews.

Big news: Office for iPhone apps have improved significantly -- to the point where the previously "pathetically bad" apps may actually be usable.

Although breathless headlines may lead you to believe that Microsoft is now giving away Office for the iPad and iPhone, the reality is more prosaic. The older, free versions of Office for iPad and iPhone allowed document viewing and a few small editing functions, such as cut and paste and formula recalc. They also let you make presentations from an already-saved PowerPoint file. The new free versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for iPad and iPhone now support document creation, straightforward editing and formatting, and saving docs in the cloud.

If you want more extensive editing -- accept/reject tracked changes, chart and table editing, portrait and landscape orientation, Pivot Tables, and Presenter View -- you still need to pay for Office 365. Of course, the unlimited free OneDrive storage is for subscribers only.

Microsoft isn't quite giving away the iPad farm, but it's definitely sweetening the subscription-seeking chum.

If you're of the Android persuasion, you can sign up for the beta by giving Microsoft a few details, including your Google account ID.

The most remarkable part of this three-step drive to move Microsoft into the cloud mainstream? It leaves Windows swinging in the wind. Office for iPad has substantial improvements. Office for iPhone has morphed completely. Office for Android has gone into open preview, with rumors of a final version in early 2015. Where does that leave Office on the various Windows platforms? Flapping in the wind, of course.

In the flurry of announcements this week, we're left with this official pronouncement about Metro Office:

We will deliver touch-optimized Office apps for Windows with Windows 10. Additional details will be shared at a later date

Hats off to Nadella for leading with his strong suit. In the space of two weeks, he's effectively eliminated the online storage market and presented a fierce front to Apple's iWorks and Google's Apps efforts. He's hell-bent on absorbing consumers into the Microsoft ecosystem and keeping corporate customers from straying too far. And if Windows can't keep up, well, so be it.

Cue the music from "The Empire Strikes Back."

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.