Thanks a lot, Microsoft, for only announcing your subscription-based plan for users of your productivity suite after I just put money down on a brand-new notebook. Office was part of the bundle they offered us at Future Shop, but it still tacked down an extra couple of hundred dollars to the purchase price. Under the Equipt program, Microsoft will charge users for programs like Word, PowerPoint and Excel in much the same way that corporate customers are acquiring new software, and in some cases it could be a lot cheaper.
It will not, however, be free, which is why Equipt is unlikely to stem the tide of free software from Google and other companies. The boxed version of Office was never really in short-term jeopardy anyway. Those downloading OpenOffice and the like are probably more savvy than the average Future Shop customer, and probably not Microsoft fans anyway. For the rest of us, it will take more time before even Google’s productivity tools enjoy the kind of mind share that, for example, Word does. But as long as Equipt costs money, it won’t be able to compete with free, and eventually the features might be even more attractive than the price point. What Google et. al are offering aren’t simply loss leaders; they are market leaders-in-waiting.
IT managers could probably safely ignore Equipt were it not for the fact that home computing software is likely to be used for after-hours work tasks as well. Their choice of productivity tools could have a direct bearing on their acceptance and adoption of the tools that are given to them by their IT department, affecting the level of training required and even the kind of processes that are set up. Google Apps and OpenOffice work a lot like Microsoft Office, but there are some things they do better or worse, and several things they do a little bit differently. That can affect things when you’re working with distributed teams, some of whom are working off-site at home or in the field on their personal laptop.
For companies that have basically standardized on Microsoft, it might make sense to recommend Equipt, giving employees the chance to stay as up-to-date on the home versions of their software as the ones on their office desktops. For others, it might be irrelevant. It all depends on whether these software products remain simple productivity tools, and there’s a lot of evidence to suggest they aren’t. As word processing documents, spreadsheets and similar applications get integrated with enterprise business functionality (including analytics), what users deploy at home should be consistent with their corporate settings unless management decides productivity should be confined to corporate headquarters.
Although we still refer to “professional edition” and “home edition” for a lot of people, Microsoft Office is just “Office.” Equipt will be one of the ways the industry learns whether the distinction still has a lot of meaning for the consumers that get a lot of work done outside of “work.”