Why Microsoft Is Trying to Lure Apple Users

Many Apple users hold a longstanding grudge against Microsoft. They have plenty of reasons, but that’s about to change.

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Strange bedfellows no more.

From the days when Microsoft Office had no real competition, the Redmond company often let down users of its Mac suite of products (remember the Word 6 fiasco?) I for one switched to iWork a long time ago, after Word crashed on me one time too many , costing me two hours of work.

More recently, Microsoft has failed to update the Mac version of Office, which first saw the light of day all the way back in 2010. Crippled in comparison to the Windows-version, Office 2011 for the Mac isn’t just lacking in functionality; it also suffers from bugs not present in the Windows version.

What’s more, Office 365 requires a Windows-only version of Office. A promising subscription-based service which Microsoft is pushing strongly, Office 365 only becomes accessible to current Office for Mac 2011 owners after they uninstall the Office software which they’d previously bought. They can then download and install Office for Mac 2011 through their Office 365 account, a privilege for which they are asked to fork over either $10 per month or $100 per year.

And while this gave them 20GB of SkyDrive storage and 60 minutes per month of Skype calls, many are understandably irked to be expected to pay for access to software they’d already paid for.

Worse still, Mac users who signed up for Office 365 did not get access to important features like Office on Demand, a service that allows a computer without Word, Excel, or PowerPoint installed to run those programs via Internet streaming. (They did, however, get access to Microsoft’s Web apps, which let them create, edit, and save Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations. The problem? These apps aren’t as full-featured as the desktop version.)

And even though Microsoft recently updated Outlook for Mac, users complained that it handles only IMAP or POP for email. Nor does it support calendar or contact syncing. (Again, the update is available only to eligible Office 365 subscribers.)

Let Bygones Be Bygones

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The start of a beautiful new friendship?

Whatever the reasons for this treatment (Microsoft says it was due to a decision to focus on mobile first), there are signals that the company has changed course.

For starters, Microsoft shipped a touch-only version for the iPad in March, and has yet to do the same for touch-centric Windows devices—including the company’s own Surface tablet.

And in an announcement made when it launched the new Mac version of Outlook , Microsoft said it will release a public beta version of Office for Mac, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, in the first half of 2015; the final version will follow in the second half of 2015. Current Office 365 subscribers will be able to upgrade for free; Microsoft also said that it would ship a perpetual license of Office for Mac.

This timeframe marks quite a departure for the company, which in the past has shipped OS versions an average of six months after the one for Windows.

Of course, things are quite different now. With Apple grabbing an ever-increasing share of the market, Microsoft has (finally) realized it can no longer count on Microsoft Office to push sales of Windows-only machines. That’s why it’s really trying to make Office 365 the productivity office equal to all, one that shines brighter than anything else available for regular consumers (many of which have jumped ship anyway and are using Apple’s iWork suite).

Power users and business owners, on the other hand, are more likely to be interested in Office 365. Currently, they can use it just fine on a Mac thanks to virtualization software. But many of them would likely prefer to run Office 365 right from their Mac OS.

Assuming Microsoft brings Caldav and Carddav support to the Mac in 2015, as well as the Mac client for the OneDrive for Business service which it promised in December 2013, these Mac power users would end up getting access to a first-rate Enterprise class system that makes collaborative computing real, thanks to its ability to work with OneDrive and open and save documents from there.

They would also get access to Office, Exchange, OneDrive, Sharepoint, Lync, a blog, a website, and more. Combined with a Mac and productivity software such as OmniFocus, Things and DEVONthink Pro Office, any Mac user would be able to work with a very powerful and system, one perfectly suited for the virtual office and, all things considered, quite affordable, especially for small and medium-sized businesses that would normally be unable to enjoy access to Enterprise class capabilities. (See this Daily Mac View article for a solid argument as to why the Office 365 subscription-model makes good financial sense.)

Summary

In a turn of events that few would have predicted ten years ago, Microsoft no longer rules the market. But thanks to CEO Satya Nadella’s vision, the Redmond company is making surprising moves that should help boost its position. This includes courting Mac users in general and its power and business users in particular. Mobile offices the world over, take notice.

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