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Microsoft wants Office to be at your fingertips at all times, regardless of where you are or what device you use. As a result it has been working at a furious rate to build out Office and Office 365, especially for mobile. Since the Office for iPad release last March, though, one of the glaring gaps has been the lack of an Android mobile edition.

Today Microsoft bridges that gap with the release of a preview version of Office for Android tablets, along with Office for iPad upgrades and new iPhone apps.

Obstacle and Obstruction Free?

And get this, as of today you won’t need an Office 365 subscription to edit documents on mobile devices and store them in the cloud (whether it’s OneDrive or Dropbox). It sounds kind of nuts until you realize that today’s digital generation is going to find a free app to get the job done before they’ll pay for one.

And there are plenty of free options out there.

So rather than lose market share, Microsoft is letting you work with Word, Excel and PowerPoint without spending a dime. Not just that, but you’ll have the option of storing files on One Drive or Dropbox, right from the menu.

In a statement about the release, John Case, corporate vice president for Office at Microsoft, said the release for Android tablets was a response to the demand for mobile Office that became apparent after the release of Office for iPad.

“Anytime someone has an idea or an inspiration, we want to empower them to take action. With over a billion Office customers worldwide, and over 40 million downloads on the iPad, it’s clear that Office applications are what people want to use to get things done," he noted in a statement

The result is that as of this morning, Android tablet users will be able to sign-up for a preview version of Office, while a full version will be put on general release in the middle of next year.

The full details of today’s announcements are as follows:

  • Microsoft is releasing new Office for iPhone apps for Word, Excel and PowerPoint that are available for download as of today
  • A preview version of Android tablet is available today for those that sign up to Microsoft is opening up Office to everyone so that anyone with an iPhone, iPad or Android device will be able to create and edit Office content without a subscription

It also offered a peek at the new “touch-optimized” Office for Windows 10, although it is unlikely t demonstrate a full version of this until it has made further progress with Windows 10.

Microsoft’s Grand Plan

This is what Microsoft plans, provided you’re not a business user.

Today’s announcement that you will no longer need subscription to access Office on mobile device is a big one, and goes back to the fundamental change in strategy that Satya Nadella introduced when he took over last March.

At the launch of Office for iPad not only did he stress again his vision of a Cloud First, Mobile First future, but he also outlined his plan to push Microsoft productivity apps into the hands of... well everyone.

If he made it easier for desktop users to access Office Web Apps through Office.com, he has also said on a number of occasions that he wanted Office accessible on every mobile device.

“We’d like to dramatically increase the number of people trying Office, Case told the New York Times about today’s announcement.

The” “people” he’s most likely referring to, are, for the most part, the millions whose first computer is, or will be, a phone or a tablet and who, quite frankly, don’t know the difference between Office and Google Docs.

Needless to say, Microsoft is making a smart move, especially given the decline in the desktop market as the mobile market grew.

Free for Businesses Too?

In tandem with this, Office 365 has been developing rapidly not just in terms of functionality, but also in terms of price. Only a few months ago, Microsoft announced that it was slashing the subscription price for Office 365 targeting the small-to-medium enterprise space.

But, at least for now, if you want to edit documents that are stored on OneDrive for Business or Dropbox for Business, it’s going to cost you. And this is how Microsoft will make its money.

It is unlikely for the moment, at least, that offering free versions of Office for mobile devices will have any significant impact on Office in general as apart from the fact that the mobile versions are limited compared to the premium versions available on desktops, the Office 365 suite is now so far beyond more Office that offering low level versions is not likely to do any damage to that business. At least for now.

What happens, though, in the future, when mobile devices get a lot more sophisticated and can support the complexity of something like Office 365? Will Microsoft be obliged to offer free versions of Office 365 to keep up with competitors?

Title image by Len Matthews  (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.