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.