Share story

Is there a way to make Office less, well, office-y?

Microsoft certainly seems to be making the attempt to position Office as not just a workplace and productivity staple but also something that can make people’s home and personal lives easier as well.

Almost everything about Microsoft’s launch Tuesday of its new version of Office made clear whom the company was targeting: consumers and, especially, busy families.

There was the announcement itself, in which Microsoft emphasized the home-use version of its new subscription-based Office productivity suite.

Office 365 Home Premium, the company said, is “a cloud service designed for busy households and people juggling ever-increasing work and family responsibilities.”

And there was the celebrity Microsoft chose for its launch event, held in New York City’s Bryant Park: actress Felicity Huffman, perhaps best known for portraying a harried working mom and wife on TV’s “Desperate Housewives.”

At the event, Huffman talked with a television interviewer about how she uses Office 365 for “all the work I do” on her own website (, and how she loves OneNote, Office’s note-taking program.

Winning over working moms and dads — and consumers in general — is a big part of Microsoft’s strategy as it seeks to move people over to a completely new way of paying for Office: with a subscription.

For the first time, Microsoft is offering its productivity suite, which includes programs such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, via a monthly or yearly subscription.

Targeting consumers is also a way to try to leverage the popularity of Office — one of the company’s biggest cash cows — into increased sales for Windows tablets, which so far have a very small market share.

And it’s a way for the company to fight back against the inroads into the workplace made by Apple’s iPad, Android tablets, Google Docs and Google Apps.

“I think Microsoft, overall, wants to win consumers overall with its tablets, phones, touch devices,” said Al Hilwa, an analyst with research firm IDC. “ And it wants to use Office as an asset.”

The challenge, he says, will be to see if Microsoft has priced its subscription model right, given that many people are used to buying Office as a software package and using it for years at a time.

Going forward, Microsoft says subscribers to Office 365 — as opposed to those who buy the traditional software installation — will get new updates and features first.

“The challenge is you don’t always need the latest and greatest features to write your English paper,” Hilwa said. “In the long run, the subscription prices may be too high.”

Office 365 Home Premium costs $99.99 for an annual subscription (which works out to about $8.34 a month), or $9.99 a month if paid month-by-month. That allows the buyer to access Office online and use it on up to five PCs, Macs or other supported devices.

By default (and unless the user chooses differently), Office content is stored on SkyDrive, Microsoft’s personal cloud service. That means, for instance, changes made in a document on a user’s PC can easily be pulled up on the user’s Windows tablet.

(Microsoft did not say anything Tuesday about its rumored-in-the-works Office app for the iPad. So far, the only Office app available for the iPad — or Android — is OneNote.)

In contrast, the installed-software version, called Office 2013, costs $139.99 for the Home and Student version. It can be used indefinitely, but only on one machine.

“This is a fundamental shift in our business that began several years ago and continues today with the release of Office 365 Home Premium,” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in an official company blog post. “For the first time, consumers can subscribe to Office as a service instead of purchasing Office as a piece of software to install. … Over time, the majority of the billion plus people using Office will be using the Office 365 service.”

Office 365 has been offered to businesses for 18 months but is only now available to home users.

Ballmer said in his blog post that one in five of Microsoft’s large-business customers has Office 365, up from one in seven a year ago, and that the company has seen a 150 percent increase in the number of small and medium-sized businesses using it.

The new version of Office 365 for businesses won’t be available until Feb. 27.

Also Tuesday, Microsoft released Office 365 University, which allows college students, faculty and staff to use Office for $79.99 for a four-year subscription.

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or On Twitter @janettu.