How Apple Could Really Change the World: Kill Office

How Apple Could Really Change the World: Kill Office

Microsoft is looking for a handout.

Microsoft told AllThingsD this week that the company has insisted that Apple lower its 30 percent cut for Office 365 subscriptions sold through Microsoft Office for iOS.

Microsoft probably assumes that since they have such an iron grip on the office suite market — in most industries, you’re essentially required to use office, or at least share Office-compatible files — that they’re “special,” and deserve a better deal than tiny software and app companies that aren’t massively profitable corporations.

I think that not only should Apple stick to its current position of saying no to this request, they should go further. Much further. They should try to replace Microsoft Office as the de facto standard for Office software with iWork — to kill Office as the global standard.

The late Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs used to talk a lot about “changing the world.” And he did. But what has Apple done for the world lately?

I’ve got a great new way for Apple to truly make the world a truly better place: Kill Microsoft Office.

First I’m going to tell you why Microsoft Office deserves to die. Then I’m going to tell you how Apple could do it.

Why Office Must Die

No, I don’t mean Office itself should become unavailable. I’m sure there are many companies that truly benefit from its mind-boggling feature set and programmability.

The problem with Office is that it became a locked-in standard during the more-is-always-better era of the mid-1990s. In order to keep their cash cow kicking, Microsoft has added more and more and more features and functions into the already bloated and unwieldy software suite.

Now, everyone from small business people to secretaries to technology columnists who have been using Office since 1992 but who now find it unusably complex are pretty much required to use it.

In my own case, most of the publishing companies I write for require me to submit articles in Word format. Because Pages doesn’t create a universally compatible version of Word documents, I have to actually buy and use Word just to convert from Pages to Word format every single time I submit a column to these publishing companies.

When I do actually use Office for anything other than format conversion, I spend most of my mental energy fighting the software for control. Microsoft’s shell games with its features — “I’ll bet you’ll never find it now!!” — its auto-formatting options that keep coming back like zombies after you turn them off, the urgent security updates that always happen right when I’ve got to use the product urgently — these and other annoyances mean you can never just use the product; you have to wrestle with it.

The bigger problem is that Microsoft Office invites the wrong kind of communication. Office makes it way too easy — almost mandatory — to create complex, incredibly ugly and horribly formatted documents.

How many irritating Word documents have you encountered in your career? How many crappy, overly creative spreadsheet graphs? How many soul-killing PowerPoint presentations?

OK, how many beautifully formatted, elegantly simple Office documents have you encountered. Zero?

To what extent is Microsoft’s overpowering bias for ugliness and cheesiness asserted for the benefit of the user, and to what extent for Microsoft to have some reason to get you to pay for the newest version?

And boy, do you pay.

The lowest price on Microsoft’s web site for Microsoft Office 2010 is $119 for a single-user, single-PC student or home version. Wow!

If you want, you can scale that all the way up to $499 for the single-user, two PC version of Office Professional. If you have three PCs, you’ll have to pay more than $499.

Beyond the devastating cost for this suite, I suspect that the collective time and energy wasted by a world struggling to use Microsoft Office removes billions of dollars from the global economy annually as well.

How to Kill Microsoft Office

It’s hard to imagine anything more obvious than the idea that Apple’s iWork suite is vastly superior for the majority of humans on this planet than Microsoft Office.

Pages, Keynote and Numbers are incredibly easy to use. They look better on screen and produce far simpler, more tasteful-looking documents.

And the desktop applications cost $20 each — take your pick. No shell games. No confusing price structure.

The way Apple could kill Microsoft Office is to make a version of iWork for Windows, then launch a massive advertising campaign for all versions: Windows, OS X and iOS.

They could also promote iWork apps for iOS to their millions of corporate customers, then leverage that access into upgrading to iWork on corporate Windows desktops.

In short, Apple should launch a full-scale effort to replace Office as the office standard.

A Word for You Critics

I know, I know. I’m going to hear it from a small army of corporate-savvy IT types: You can’t replace Office; it’s too integrated into the in-house applications and workflow. iWork is just a toy, a plaything — not a real Office Suite. iWork is not secure. Etc.

You know what? That’s the same argument those same kinds of people said about why businesses can’t use iPhones. But now businesses are using iPhones (and iPads) in huge numbers. And they’re better off for it.

The “consumerization of IT” shouldn’t just involve hardware. It should involve software, too. Especially office suite software.

Every new generation of computing has become simpler and easier to use. And every generation of IT priesthood has fought hard to maintain a more bloated, expensive and complex system only they can understand or control.

Besides, Steve Jobs used Keynote software to present in his product announcements. Can you name a more effective presentation someone else delivered using PowerPoint?

Apple uses iWork internally. Can you name a more profitable or successful company using Office?

The bottom line is that office suites exist so that people can communicate with other people. They shouldn’t get in the way, or confuse, or uglify, or make expensive that communication.

Nearly all office suite usage in the world involves some very simple act. Somebody wants to write a note and print it. A sales guy wants to present some key points to a prospective client. That sort of thing.

And most of it should be done with a simple, clean, pretty, inexpensive and stable tool like iWork, not a complex, messy, ugly, costly and problematic tool like Office.

At this point, only Apple is in the position to save the world from Microsoft Office.

Apple has made Windows software before, too. They created iTunes for Windows. And they make Safari for Windows.

But what we really need is iWork for Windows. Apple needs to change the world by changing the world’s default office suite.

  • robert_walter

    Thought Apple killed Safari for PC, but point taken and I like your proposal.

  • BlogApplePeru

    I doubt this would happen. I love the idea though. MS Office should be the next Photoshop: Used only by the vast minority of pros that know how to and need most or all of its features.

  • tbsteph

    And just how would killing Office be of benefit to users? Moronic hatred of Microsoft to the detriment of users. Unbelievable short sighted.

  • Cortney Sauk

    And just how would killing Office be of benefit to users? Moronic hatred of Microsoft to the detriment of users. Unbelievable short sighted.

    Agreed, something about getting rid of a standard file type so that everyone is tied to a closed off system of Apple’s just seems a little wonky with me.

    Hell I don’t even think I saw a mention of Google Docs which is probably Offices biggest competitor.

  • nlev245

    iWork don’t support right to left languages. Killing office will stop users writing in those languages from creating documents.

  • nlev245

    iWork don’t support right to left languages. Killing office will stop users writing in those languages from creating documents.

  • _rick

    Apple does two things really well. Create the world’s best hardware and the world’s best software & media distribution tool (App store, iTunes store). The iWork stuff is fun, but it’s not a profit center. Selling Office in the app store is where the real money is. Apple and Microsoft need to come together on this one. Apple needs to give a little and negotiate with the evil empire. It’ll drive even greater adoption of the iPad in business, and selling hardware is what Apple does. Nothing precludes Apple putting their iWork out on windows, but that’ll be nothing more than a hobby project and never a profit center for the company.

  • monstermasten

    Google Drive/Docs is the best atm. Push it to the world!

  • Cesar Florez

    another great article Mr.Elgan

  • technochick

    iWork don’t support right to left languages. Killing office will stop users writing in those languages from creating documents.

    Or Apple adds that support

  • technochick

    Apple will likely never make non Apple versions of their iWork, iLife or pro apps. Restricting hardware and OS variant makes updating and debugging easier. And those apps are the major selling point for Apple hardware, which is where they make the real money

  • Koban4max

    You know…page is not bad, however, I still use office. I can not support Microsoft with this latest subscription type. I still can get it free without support microsoft..and watch them burn down with their idiotic CEO Ballmer aka dead fish.

  • idrocas

    Well killing an Office Suite for less than a 5% worldwide computer quota just sound insane, so killing an Office suite for an uncertain mobile market also sounds insane, even if you think than only about the 16% of mobile market is iOS, so you can add to this the last few months of unstable Apple stock shares, so I guess nobody thinks about kill something with those numbers.

  • Atienne

    I agree, but…. there is always a but… I recently abandoned office that I have been using forever. How long is forever??? I have Word 1.0 on floppy in my little tech archive boxes in the basement. the problem is that MS did such a good job of perpetuating the myth that it’s gonna be hard unless EVERYONE jumps on.

    Google dropping Active Sync is a good start. But those companies that installed office/exchange systems for bazillions of dollars (I’ve installed tons of them myself) are gonna have a hard time moving away. Believe me, I have offered many of them alternatives.

    I was doing a PC install years ago for a company that refused to look at any computer that didn’t have IBM on the case even though there were many great clones out there…. Go figure.

  • MichaelMuc

    How can you seriously compare iWork with MS Office? Maybe iWork is similar to MS Works regarding to functionality and price.
    Have you ever tried to work with Numbers? It just made me laugh. A handful of basic features and that’s it? I’ve really regret spending money for iWork.
    Don’t get me wrong – I really love my Macbook and OS X is way better than anything Microsoft has made so far. But iWork is no real competitor to Office.

  • George Burroughs

    Great article and a very interesting concept. I think Apple could do it, I’m just not sure if they would ever make it a priority.

  • Alexander530

    I totally agree. Word and Excel are still pretty much the standard office tools that most people use.

  • TechBell

    Apple doesn’t need nor care about Microsoft Office on iOS. Microsoft needs this much more than they do. Apple to Ballmer: suck it up. The price of admission is 30%.

  • fly_dervish

    I think the first move would be for apple to make iwork documents fully compatible with office. This is a huge barrier for adopting iwork: the fear that once you make that change you’ll be having problems sharing documents with – basically the rest of the world. And when it comes to work, reliability is a major issue. Just imagine missing a deadline because you were failed by your working software. Really not worth worrying about.
    Unless apple finds a way of iwork documements seamlessly working across platforms and applications, it’ll be almost impossible to start replacing office at workplaces. Once this is done, it can perhaps start pushing for more adoption of its suite.
    That being said, I currently believe that the future of work documents lies in the cloud (google docs). Having documents in the cloud ready to share and collaborate over, while eliminating the need for space and processing power at work just makes much more sense. Perhaps this another reason why apple hasn’t been too concerned with promoting iwork. I think office suites could as well be dead in the next 10 years.

  • Paullloydjohnson

    I use iWork and have actually dropped Office altogether. You want a document from me? You get a PDF. It’s ok, but it’s not ideal. I would love for Apple to take on Office and give me a reason to drop my Adobe middleman altogether.

  • TheKnightWhoSaysNi

    No other spreadsheet program comes close to Excel for Windows. Even Excel for Mac is a distant second.
    But for most people, the problem is not one of capability but of usability.

    Numbers is simply harder to use than Excel because a lot of its features are hidden in arcane menus or palettes. Apple also forces you to constantly switch between the mouse and keyboard for a lot of operations. Editing a cell should not require using the mouse.

    And of course, with OpenOffice, you get what you pay for.

  • wdhaley

    The pricing for Office is what kills me. I wish I could just buy Word separately for Mac, but I have to buy other programs that I will likely never use. Student pricing is a joke especially compared to $20 for Pages that has great iOS synergy. I agree, I wish Apple would be more aggressive with iWork. Throw money at the problem! Lord knows they have enough.

  • Market_Mayhem

    The average consumer does not require Microsoft Office for daily use. Although I’ve owned MS Office for Mac for many years, I don’t know any of my friends who use it except for work on their Windows PCs. I would have been considered a power user of Microsoft Word since I did many types of documents (as in manuals), but most of the people I know that use it at work only use it for very basic stuff. It’s certainly useful as a universal standard for work, but at home, it’s just not necessary for most consumers. For office workers, Microsoft Office will remain the standard forever but the average consumer can kick it to the curb.

  • townNOTgown

    Mike. I see where you’re coming from, but as an accountant who uses Excel everyday (on Windows at work), unless Apple can implement an equivalent to Visual Basic for Applications that will convert existing macros from VBA with no fuss and work first time, you’re idea is deader than a Dodo. Follow the basic rule, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and see where the money goes.

    Sure Office isn’t perfect, but it’s not as terrible as you make out (on Windows at least). In my experience, Office for Mac sucks massively compared to Office on Windows, so don’t forget to factor that in (what do you mean that formula isn’t included in the Mac version, but is in the earlier Windows version?!!???).

    For most businesses iWork would be an unknown quantity and represent RISK and extra cost. If businesses are going to change from Office, why not OpenOffice? At least it’s free and will have the same problems as iWork (retraining, retooling macros etc). Most business don’t care about pretty, or “a bit less user-friendly than it could be”, it’s cost and can it do the jobs I need it to do? Without VBA, forget it. That’s Microsoft’s biggest lock (in Finance/ Accounting at least).

  • nakizo

    Word is the only one that has to go IMO. I fight it, yes, FIGHT it, every day to write simple proposals. It is the most bloated, useless, frustrating app I have ever used. Words cannot begin to describe how much I loathe it. Sadly, it is the standard and I must live with it. For me, Powerpoint is a complete opposite. It is my universal whiteboard. Excel is great, too, especially as I program in VBA. I have seen MRP/ERP systems written in just Excel!

  • HacknMac

    The article neglects one simple fact; Behind Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Office is the top selling software on Mac. I know hard to believe….research it. Neither Pages nor iWorks are even close to the top ten. I guess not everyone is buying it for conversion purposes as the article suggests.

  • JeffroMX

    Kill Office? Just like they killed Google Maps? Look how well that turned out for them.

    You’re just a fanboy.

  • Robert X

    iWorks is a toy compared to Office. It quite simply could not be done. Office is too entrenched everywhere and it is one of the best selling Mac products out there as well.

  • Michael Snape

    It would be great if apple did this, but even I have to agree with most of the commenters. In its current state it’s not possible. Many times for artistic looking documents oddly enough I have had to switch to word because the feature simply is not in page, same goes for excel and numbers. The only real piece of software is keynote which is a beauty.

    Apple has a long way to go and needs to improve allot, hell it’s coming on 4 years without any real update. But until apple takes a big leap in matching office in just some basic formatting, formula, and design features. They have a long way to go.

  • kolson221

    I agree office needs to go, but its not iWork that’s going to replace it. Its Google Docs.

  • Gadget

    Pages is already great. Keynote is better than anything else. Numbers however pales in comparison to the power of Excel. It’s the VBA programming in Excel that Numbers just can’t match. I’ve found even the VBA in Excel 2011 for Mac isn’t completely cross-compatible with Excel for Windows (I’m looking at you vlookup).

  • NightLoch

    I whole-heartedly agree that MS Office needs to go. Even prior to my mac-conversion (and subsequent exposure to iWork apps), I felt that Office has always been overkill in terms of usability and price. I am completely happy with iWork as my staple office apps and don’t even bother with converting anymore – if I need to send it to an MS recipient, I simply export to pdf (better alternative than editable docs anyway).

  • Darxler

    This whole article… Really? Office is my go-to suite. I can’t use any of the iWork apps, and trust me I tried. I owned a mac for 3 years, and Pages was always sub-par, missing features, not compatible with ANYTHING else because of their backwards folder-based document organization. Even on my iPad, I couldn’t do simple things like adding in page breaks or changing the page margins, or tab spacing, to even adding fonts. Its ridiculous that anyone would want to use that half-baked software.

    If you need your program to LIMIT your options so you can make beautiful presentations and documents, then you simply suck at using a computer. You need to follow a specific design language, effects to match effects, colours to match colours. I want to be able to do whatever I so wish, even to embed video and audio into my presentations. I don’t need any company telling me what I can and can’t do with a piece of software that I bought.

    People will always go to MS Office, or even the more compatible and feature-rich LibreOffice, when faced with a decision. Theres a reason Office is one of the best-selling office suites, even on Mac.

  • Graham_Best

    “Apple uses iWork internally. Can you name a more profitable or successful company using Office?”

    This argument that iWork is successful because Apple’s stock price is high is a logical fallacy of Appeal to Authority. If this logic worked, then Mobile Me would have been a huge success.
    http://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/appeal-to-authority

    There’s a nice chart of fallacies on that site. Maybe you could print out a copy so you don’t make the same poor mistake again…?

  • CallenFamily

    MS Office must go.
    Apple should replace it.
    Pages and Numbers are nowhere near ready to do that.
    Make apps that are
    a) intuitive, with minimal use input and
    b) that can be auto-customised in levels from basic to pro as well as individually customisable within each of those levels. The auto-customisation option would give most people the level of sophistication they need, while the personal customisation would let you build precisely the interface you want, no more, no less. Basic version could be free like QuickTime, pro like QuickTime Pro – and full of every feature imaginable.
    Put speech control in too, while you’re at it.

About the author

Mike ElganMike Elgan writes about technology and culture for a wide variety of publications. Follow Mike on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

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